Sat, 06 Dec 2003

Disadvantaged people rally, demand halt to evictions

Leony Aurora, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Hundreds of poor Jakartans staged a peaceful rally on Friday, demanding the Jakarta administration stop evictions and instead acknowledge their right to live in the capital.

Carrying banners and placards, the protesters, who included evictees, squatters, sidewalk vendors, street children and musicians, called for fair treatment.

"We are not criminals. Why is it difficult to find something to eat in our own country?" said one of the placards.

Men, women and children, wearing headbands with "Stop evictions" written on them, joined voices in a bid to be heard.

Organized by the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC), the protesters took turns to make speeches and called on the administration to be accountable for the recent string of evictions that had made thousands homeless.

"We are citizens," said one of the speakers.

Residents of areas due for clearance, such as Muara Baru, North Jakarta, also joined in the demonstration. Dela, who has lived in front of the Muara Baru fish auction center for almost 20 years, said, "I have come to defend my rights and to try to persuade Governor Sutiyoso (to cancel the eviction)."

Another squatter demanded fair financial compensation for the evictees. "We're not asking to be paid for the land, just the buildings," he said. He decried the Rp 500,000 (US$58.82) in compensation offered by the administration as "oppression money."

The protesters also blamed businesspeople for the evictions, saying they were the real influence that lay behind the administration's insistence on land clearance.

The speeches were interspersed with songs by street musicians and a short play, which ended with the burning of an effigy of Governor Sutiyoso, to onlookers' cheers and jeers. The styrofoam statue had red horns on its head and wore a brown safari suit.

UPC coordinator Wardah Hafidz asked the administration for a six-month moratorium on evictions to give all related parties a chance to sit together and try and reach a compromise.

"This city has to be for everyone. This is not a matter of one losing to another," she told reporters after the demonstrators dispersed themselves quietly as the time for Friday prayers drew close.

She also urged that proper shelter be provided for those who have been evicted and promised new dwellings.

Another rally is planned to be held on Dec. 10, although the location is not determined yet. UPC also plans to demand the Ministry of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure clarify its role and what measures will be taken in future evictions.

According to UPC, 16 evictions have taken place in Jakarta this year. In the last four months 15,000 people have lost their homes. The Jakarta Public Order Agency recently cleared away sidewalk vendors in Pondok Labu, Kebayoran Lama, Pasar Minggu and Mampang Prapatan, all in South Jakarta, causing thousands to lose their source of living.