Sat, 23 Aug 2003

Govt determined to solve resettlement problem this year

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government is determined to send around 208,000 refugees back to their home villages or resettle them in other, safer areas this year, but it will postpone the resettlement program in war- torn Aceh as the military offensive there is still underway.

Director General for Population Mobility at the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, Dyah Paramawartiningsih, said here on Friday that there were still 8,000 transmigrants who had left their settlement areas in Kalimantan, Sulawesi, Maluku and Papua because of the recent ethnic and sectarian conflicts in these regions.

"Some of them will be sent back to their original settlement areas, while some others will be resettled in new resettlement areas across the country," she said after seeing off 100 West Java transmigrant families who were leaving for their new homes in Banyu Asin, South Sumatra.

She said she was also optimistic that 200,000 indigenous people who had fled conflicts in their home areas in Kalimantan, Central Sulawesi, Maluku and North Maluku would be sent back home or resettled in new areas by the end of this year.

She added that the situation in these former conflict areas had been gradually returning to normal.

Sambas in West Kalimantan and Sampit in Central Kalimantan were affected by a racial conflict between indigenous Melayu and Dayak people and Madurese settlers in 2000 and 2001, while Poso in Central Sulawesi, Maluku and North Maluku were the scenes of a bloody sectarian conflict that lasted from 1999 until 2002.

Dyah said the government during a recent limited Cabinet meeting decided to resolve the refugee problem by Dec. 31, 2003, at the latest. If this proved to be impossible, the problem would be handled under the poverty eradication program.

She failed to explain the difference between the resettlement program and the poverty eradication program. Under the refugee resettlement program, refugees are given one kilogram of rice and Rp 500 per person per day, and Rp 8 million per family to go back home, while under the transmigration program, transmigrants are paid their transportation costs, and are given two hectares of farmland. Their living costs are covered for their first year in the resettlement area.

Since 1999, the Ministry of Manpower and Transmigration, in cooperation with local and foreign non-governmental organizations, has resettled one million refugees who were displaced by ethnic and sectarian conflicts in the regions, including Aceh and West Timor.

Meanwhile, Untung Subianto, a member of one of the 100 families being resettled again, this time in South Sumatra, said he and his family had left Aceh some years ago when rebels attempted to drive all migrants from the province.

"Sometime when the situation returns to normal, I will return to Aceh to work my large farm, which has being lying idle now for years," he said.

Touched by Untung's words, Dyah called on the transmigrants to keep their land certificates, saying: "All of you will be allowed to return to Aceh after normalcy is restored in the province, but now you should work hard to survive and to make money for when you go back to Aceh."

She said it was impossible for the refugees to go back to Aceh at the moment as the situation still remained uncertain following the imposition of martial law and the launching of the military offensive to quell the armed rebellion by the Free Aceh Movement (GAM).