Sat, 22 Jan 2000

Gus Dur to meet Bintan protesters

JAKARTA (JP): President Abdurrahman Wahid has agreed in principle to receive representatives of villagers in Bintan who are seeking higher compensation for their former land, a Palace official said on Friday.

There has been no fixed date set for the meeting, but the official said Abdurrahman, popularly known as Gus Dur, would likely meet the villagers either on Saturday or Monday.

"I only know that the President is willing to accept them, but I am still not sure about the timing," the official said.

An official at the Indonesian Embassy in Singapore confirmed the plan on Friday, although the diplomat acknowledged he too could not confirm the date of the planned meeting.

The farmers agreed to stop their five-day demonstration on Wednesday, after Riau officials agreed to arrange a meeting with the President to convey their complaints.

Thousands of villagers occupied a power plant at the Bintan Industrial Estate on Saturday, cutting off electricity and power supplies to about 30 factories on the industrial estate. They also blocked an access road to the Bintan Beach International Resort.

Backed up by a group of university students, the protesters also threatened to damage a park if their demand for up to Rp 10,000 of compensation for each square meter of their land sold to a consortium of Singaporean and Indonesian companies in 1991 was left unheeded. They claimed to have received Rp 100 per square meter at that time.

The park's management, which is part of Singaporean conglomerate SembCorp. Industries Ltd., has threatened to close it down if the situation spirals out of control.

Bintan, about 50 kilometers east of Singapore, is a popular weekend resort for Singaporeans, after Batam.

Indonesian Ambassador to Singapore Lt. Gen. Luhut Panjaitan said the situation was fully under control. He said Singapore's Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong was closely following the situation on the island.

The riot erupted just one day after Goh had returned from Jakarta, where he had promised more investment for the island.

"Investors can not be blamed for the dispute because they have fulfilled their obligations," Antara quoted Luhut as saying on Friday. (prb)