Tue, 14 May 2002

May riots still burned into victim's minds

Damar Harsanto, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Four years after the May riots, life is still hard for Yuliarti, 50, one of the survivors of the bloody tragedy.

Her shop-house at the vicinity of the former Yogya shopping center in Klender, East Jakarta, was burned to the ground on May 13, the first of two days of riots that paralyzed the capital.

"I failed to save even a spoon or a plate during the incident as my family including my crippled mother were forced to seek refuge at a relative's home," Yuliarti recalled of the tragedy.

For the next two years, life was nothing but misery for the single parent with two children as she depended on the mercy of friends and relatives to survive.

Brimming with tears, Yuliarti revealed that finally she managed to reopen her restaurant thanks to the financial support of friends.

"It has been a year since I reopened my small restaurant after I lost everything during the riots," Yuliarti said.

The Yogya Department Store has also been rebuilt and is now called the Citra Plaza, which is owned by tycoon Ciputra.

But Yuliarti complained that the shopping center was still quiet and business was slow.

Her restaurant is among a few of the shops which have resumed operations in the vicinity of the shopping center.

Dozen of other shops in the area, as in many other parts of the city, were destroyed during the riots.

In West Jakarta, most of the shops alongside Jl. P. Tubagus Angke are still closed. Some of them remain as messy burned ruins.

The former four-story Tomang Plaza on Jl. Kyai Tapa, also in West Jakarta, is a burned out shell. Only some kiosks have been built in the area.

According to Yuliarti, the owners of her neighboring shops complained about the lack of funds and working capital to reopen their business.

"Some of them went bankrupt following the riots."

She said the owner of a chain of electronic shops lost all three of his shops in separate locations throughout Jakarta during the riots.

The May riots inflicted losses of at least Rp 2.5 trillion (US$268 million). Thirteen markets, 2,479 shop-houses, 40 malls, 1,604 shops, 45 garages, 383 private offices, nine fuel stations, eight public buses and minivans, 1,119 cars, 821 motorcycles, and 1,026 houses were destroyed during the riots.

The violence claimed 2,244 lives, according to the latest data from the Volunteers' Team for Humanity. The largest number of dead came from the area of Yogya Plaza department store and supermarket with 288 killed.

Anti-Chinese sentiment was sparked in the anarchy which was followed by looting, burning, and the rape of Chinese- Indonesians.

Christ Manning, an economist of the Australian National University estimated that between 20,000 and 30,000 Chinese- Indonesians had fled abroad permanently in fear of the possibility of subsequent riots.

Meanwhile, Marsono, 56, owner of a drug store on Jl. P. Tubagus Angke said that many kiosk owners were still waiting for "the right time" to resume operations.

The owners, Marsono revealed, would resume their operation should the area return to the conditions just prior to the riots.

"I myself have just opened the store seven months ago, thanks to my close friends' help," said Marsono, a Jakarta-born Chinese Indonesian who has two children.

On May, 13, at 3 p.m., Marsono and his family were forced to flee from the rear of the family's shop-house as a violent mass surrounded the building and set it alight.