Sun, 23 Jan 2000

Mataram refugees put heavy strain on Bali

DENPASAR, Bali (JP): The influx of refugees from riot-hit Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara, to Denpasar and its vicinity is feared to create food and health problems.

Priest Benedictus Benimary, who is active in helping the refugees, said here on Saturday that almost 5,000 refugees had packed churches, seminaries and residents' houses.

"The refugees also need food, clothes, blankets and medicine. We can handle them just for a few days. There will be serious problems after one month. We must find a way to help them soon," Benedictus said.

He said he was concerned about poor families as those who had money could stay at hotels in Denpasar, Kuta and other tourist resorts in Nusa Dua.

"The latest information says that Mataram has become calm, meaning that the number of refugees flooding into Denpasar will drop. But what we should do now is take care of the existing refugees," he said.

The West Nusa Tenggara capital of Mataram was rocked by violence last week after angry mobs ran amok and burned 10 churches last Monday following a gathering to protest religious violence in Maluku.

Five people were killed during the violence.

With rumors of the possible spread of unrest to Bali swirling, police here were forced to work hard to convince people that the island paradise was safe.

Reports of the burning of a church in Banyupoh, Buleleng, by unidentified people, were proven untrue.

The influx of people from Mataram to Bali has prompted the police to guard all points of entry more tightly. Bali Police chief Brig. Gen. Togar Sianipar has reiterated his shoot-on-sight order to those who wish to cause unrest here.

Spokesman for the provincial police Lt. Col. Y. Suyatmo said on Saturday that Togar had met with leaders of youth and civilian militia groups, including Sikep Cakra Bhuwana. "The meeting was aimed to evoke people's awareness to maintain security and solidarity," Suyatmo said.

Meanwhile, life in Mataram has returned to normal. Groups of people were seen clearing barricades from the streets.

Residents said that local security organizations played a significant role in returning the situation to normal.

A police officer cited a group of civilian militia with 150,000 members (Amfibi), which was active in night patrols.

In a bid to avoid more bloodshed a Tablig Akbar (Muslim mass gathering) scheduled to take place in Pauk Motong village in East Lombok on Saturday was canceled.

However, many trucks loaded with people who wanted to attend the gathering entered the village as news of the cancellation was not received by those living outside.

The would-be participants returned home peacefully after they were told of the cancellation.

Separately, West Nusa Tenggara Governor Harun Al Rasyid announced a planned visit by President Abdurrahman Wahid to the riot-torn capital of the province.

No date has been set for the visit, the first to be made by Abdurrahman since taking office last October.

"Since the unrest flared up, Mataram has drawn attention from the central government, not only National Police chief Lt. Gen. Roesdihardjo and Udayana Military Commander Maj. Gen. Kiki Syahnakri, but President Abdurrahman," Harun said.

Harun was speaking at a post-Ramadhan celebration at the Al- Halimi Islamic boarding school in the West Lombok village of Sesela.

He said there should be no repeat of riots in his territory and asked all parties to bury the past.

"Muslims should not be liable to provocation and all attempts to lock horns with other parts of society. Nobody will gain anything but disharmony," Harun told Antara.

He said many people had returned goods they had looted during the rioting, due to the role of local ulemas. The goods are being kept at the civilian guard headquarters. (zen/sur)