Tue, 01 Aug 2000

Jayapura accepts refugees fleeing strife-torn Maluku

SORONG, Irian Jaya (JP): The remaining 968 refugees fleeing strife-torn Maluku on board the KM Dobonsolo disembarked in Jayapura on Monday.

"After a few days of disputes and rejection from some locals, the refugees were finally dropped off in Jayapura and will be sheltered temporarily at the naval base here," a police officer in Jayapura said in a telephone interview.

The Dobonsolo has reportedly departed for the towns of Biak and Fak Fak in Irian Jaya before heading for Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara.

The ferry, which carried 4,215 passengers, about 1,200 of whom were refugees, was impounded off Jayapura after arriving on Sunday from the Maluku capital of Ambon.

Local administration prohibited the state-owned ferry from berthing or disembarking the refugees, citing fear that they might bring further violence to the area.

The decision on whether to allow the Maluku refugees to enter Irian Jaya was heatedly debated in a coordinated meeting presided over by Deputy Governor Brig. Gen. (ret) Abraham O. Atururi and attended by Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. S.Y. Wenas, Irian Jaya Navy Base commander Commodore Franklin W. Kayhattu, provincial councillors and community leaders on Monday afternoon, Antara reported.

Both Wenas and Franklin, however, urged the local leaders to accept the refugees for humanitarian reasons.

"Do not confuse a benevolent action with political motives. The refugees are in a very poor condition and need our help," Wenas said.

Franklin, however, said his troops were ready to take firm action if any of the refugees instigated riots in the country's easternmost province.

After hours of acrimonious debate, which ended in the evening, the Irianese civilian guards agreed to accept the refugees.

But an incident broke out at almost the same time, when the Maluku refugees rushed back to the Dobonsolo and demanded the crew return them to Ambon. The dispute remained unsettled as of 10 p.m. local time, witnesses said.

Separately in Ambon, Governor Saleh Latuconsina said he sent the list of passengers on board to the Irian Jaya governor in a bid to recheck the travelers.

"May I say here that not all of those passengers are refugees. There are three categories, the first are those who want to reach Tual in North Maluku but have to transit in Manokwari. The second group are merely visitors and the third band comprises refugees," Latuconsina said, adding that so far there were no changes to the vessel's route.

In Makassar, South Sulawesi, Governor H. ZB Palaguna urged the central government on Monday to take concrete steps to deal with Maluku refugees who were denied entry into Irian Jaya.

"South Sulawesi is one of the popular destinations for refugees arriving from areas ravaged by communal clashes, such as Irian Jaya, Maluku, East Timor and Poso," he said.

"The government is obliged to take care of them and protect them from possible terror and intimidation."

He said, however, that he could understand why certain areas could not accept people from other places. "Seeking refuge in our own country is more honorable than seeking asylum abroad."

Back in Maluku, Governor Latuconsina and security authorities inspected the ravaged village of Waai on Monday following an overnight fray which killed at least one person and wounded six others.

Waai, which is about 28 kilometers south of Ambon, was attacked for the third time this month after armed rioters from the predominantly Muslim Tulehu and Liang villages raided the area on Sunday at about 10 a.m. local time.

"The situation seems relatively calm, but we're still collecting more data," Latuconsina said after the 30-minute inspection. He was accompanied by Pattimura Military chief Brig. Gen. I Made Yasa and Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Firman Gani. (48/49/27/edt/sur)