Fri, 23 Feb 2001

North Maluku refugees repatriated

JAILOLO, North Halmahera (JP): North Maluku civil emergency authorities began on Thursday the repatriation of some 2,600 refugees residing for over a year in Akediri military camp back to their respective villages in the province.

The refugees are part of a total of 166,138 internally displaced people (IDP) in North Maluku who fled their homes following massive conflict and bloodshed which began in the province in 1999.

"The repatriation effort on Thursday was spontaneous as they want to rebuild their homes and no longer want to stay at refugee barracks," Lt. Col. Benny Indra of West Java's armed IV/Siliwangi, the military sector chief in Jailolo who led the evacuation told an entourage of foreign envoys visiting the area.

"Of course we can't let the refugees live in the camps indefinitely as the local government doesn't have enough money to support them," North Maluku Governor Abdul Muchyi Effendi said.

The refugees, loaded in 10 trucks and dozens of minivans, were seen off by Minister of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure Erna Witoelar who later visited the villages of Porniti and Tuwada to introduce a new scheme in which repatriated refugees are being provided free housing materials to rebuild their homes.

"We are providing Rp 1 billion to provide housing materials for such villages and now as a token of our promise we are handing Rp 3 million to each of the villages," Minister Erna said.

"We're trying to speed up the recuperation process and motivate their will to live," she added.

The North Maluku administration have already repatriated nearly 28,500 refugees from Ternate back to their respective villages across North Maluku's three regencies of North Maluku, Central Halmahera and Ternate.

Governor Muchyi further identified several conflict-prone areas namely Rau island in South Morotai, Doi, Baja and Kedi islands in Loloda district and the districts of Galela and Tobelo.

North Maluku has been hit by outbursts of violence since 1998, which has claimed some 2,100 lives and left thousands of others injured, he added.


Earlier in Ambon, Maluku, on Wednesday, donor countries and representatives of international agencies visiting the riot-torn city said they will cautiously decide within a month whether to continue aiding recovery projects in Maluku and North Maluku.

"We are carefully considering the situation in the Malukus. Security is the main priority in running a recovery project. If we were not sure that there won't be any conflicts, we wouldn't be visiting (Maluku)," the United Nations Development Program representative to Indonesia Ravi Rajan told The Jakarta Post.

Rajan was among an entourage of 10 foreign envoys and representatives led by Erna Witoelar.

The two-day visit to Maluku which began on Tuesday was aimed at obtaining firsthand information about the latest situation and the possibility of rehabilitation efforts.

The clash has claimed more than 8,000 lives and has forced no less than 130,000 others to flee.

"Of course we have to take some risks. But we believe that the government has to set the agenda since there are lots of problems and obstacles in starting to aid Maluku's recovery," Rajan said.

Most residents visited by the group, he added, admitted that they are still afraid of renewed riots and lack of security.

"People need time to heal...The best thing to do now is to speed up economic recovery by providing more jobs and build facilities such as markets and schools instead of housing," Rajan asserted.

He added that after the visit, the group will evaluate the situation.

The Netherlands and Japan are among those who have committed themselves to giving funds for the recovery project in Maluku.

A US$9.5 million grant from the Netherlands will be used for several projects, such as a community recovery project in Kei island due to start next month.

The Japanese government has provided $1 million for a recovery project, plus an additional $8,000 for internally displaced people.

All of the funds will be channeled through UNDP.

The Japanese government, however, has yet to decide on further aid to Maluku this year.

The delegation included Netherlands Ambassador Baron Van Heemstra, Swedish Ambassador Harald Sandberg, British Ambassador Richard Gozney, Terry Meyer and Victoria Alfarado of USAID, Australian representatives Sam Zappia, European Commission representatives Juan Planas and William J. van Diest.

Previously on Tuesday night, the entourage also met local officials to discuss security details as well as the economic and social situation across the Maluku islands.

"We admit that despite a relatively calm situation in Maluku during the past couple of months, crime rates are still very high especially on cases regarding murders, arson and illegal possession of weapons," Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Firman Gani told the meeting.

"It's also very hard to prosecute as law enforcers hold a different perspective in handling riot-related cases," he said.(edt/49)