Wed, 31 Mar 1999

Continue aid for Ambon refugees urged

JAKARTA (JP): Southeast Sulawesi Governor La Ode Kaimoeddin called on the government on Tuesday to step up humanitarian aid for Ambon refugees, particularly those sheltering on Buton Island.

Kaimoeddin was commenting on a possible diarrhea outbreak in the Southeast Sulawesi island after flooding swept away their makeshift barracks on Sunday.

"The refugees have taken on multiple tribulations. While looking for safety here, they find themselves facing serious health problems due to the flood," Kaimoeddin said after installing the new head of the social affairs office, Tamrin Patoro, in the provincial capital Kendari.

The governor did not believe the Ambon refugees, mostly of Buton descent, wished to settle permanently on the island.

"The central government appears to have washed its hands of the matter after learning the refugees are ancestors of Buton migrants. (They appear to) disregard the fact that they were born and raised in Ambon."

Field workers estimate the number of Ambon refugees has reached 37,000 and predict numbers will soar to 40,000.

Incessant rains caused flooding in Buton on Sunday, with at least 500 Ambon refugee families among people evacuated to safer places. No fatalities were reported.

Kaimoeddin demanded the government dispatch more humanitarian aid for the refugees following the flooding.

"Frankly speaking, I'm disappointed with the government for ignoring Buton people but paying more attention to West Kalimantan refugees," he told Antara news agency.

In Ujungpandang, South Sulawesi, some 10,000 Bugis who fled riot-torn Ambon began returning to the Maluku capital on Tuesday.

Coordinator for refugee relocation, Iskandar Prasojo, told The Jakarta Post the refugees will be transported by ships belonging to state-owned shipping company Pelni in five stages. The four remaining relocation dates are April 1, April 15, April 21 and April 29.

Head of the Armed Forces task force responsible for appeasing the religious conflict, Maj. Gen. Suaidi Marasabessy, said the return of Bugis migrants to Ambon indicated that order had been restored.

Meanwhile, the Ambon District Court began on Monday the trial of a local public transportation driver who allegedly sparked the weeks of bloody clashes. Nearly 200 died in the unrest and hundreds of buildings were damaged. (27/amd)