Tue, 25 Jan 2000

Singapore minister and Gus Dur discuss Bintan

JAKARTA (JP): Visiting Singapore Education Minister Teo Chee Hean told President Abdurrahman 'Gus Dur' Wahid on Monday that riots on Bintan Island were counterproductive to the government's efforts to restore international market confidence.

Emphasizing that the Bintan issue was only briefly discussed during his 30-minute meeting with the President, Teo, who is also Second Minister for Defense, pointed out that the island state was awaiting a conclusive solution.

"I think it is important for the confidence of investors that a fair and good solution is found to the issue, and we look forward to that," Teo said after meeting with Abdurrahman at the Bina Graha presidential office.

Teo stated he did not convey any special message on the Bintan Island issue from Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong.

Bintan Island, about 50 kilometers southeast of Singapore, is a popular weekend resort for Singaporeans, who also hold the majority of the S$1.35 billion (US$808 million) development on the island.

In a pre-dawn operation on Sunday, Indonesian troops moved in to quell nearly a week of protests outside the Bintan Beach International Resort by about 200 disgruntled villagers.

At least 13 people were injured, four of them seriously, and more than 70 people arrested in the 45-minute operation, according to the Straits Times.

Three of the injured were said to have gunshot wounds in the chest and stomach.

The villagers had set up a blockade and camped at a road leading to the Bintan Beach International Resort, demanding additional compensation for the land they had sold to the resort and an industrial estate managed by a unit of Singapore conglomerate SembCorp. Industries Ltd.

Armed with knives and spears, last week they had seized a power plant in the Bintan Industrial Estate, severing electricity and water supply to the 27 factories there. They left the plant after being given assurances their demands would be investigated.

Teo here on Monday indicated that it was Abdurrahman himself who first touched on the issue during their conversation.

"The President understood the importance of confidence building among investors in Indonesia, not only in Bintan and Batam, but in Indonesia as well. It is important there is a good climate for investors to come to Indonesia".

Singapore's Straits Times daily on Monday quoted Bintan Council speaker, Huzrin Hood, as justifying the crackdown.

"I am very sad by the turn of events. But if nothing was done, there will be problems for Bintan in the long run," he said.

SembCorp Industries expressed regret in a statement Sunday that force had to be used to disperse the demonstrators.

"This past week has been a harrowing time for all of us who have a stake in Bintan -- both the villagers as well as the investors," said its managing director Tay Siew Choon as reported by AFP from Singapore.

"There are no winners in such a situation. In the end both the people of Bintan and investors like us lose out. If the confidence of international investors is shaken, jobs and businesses on Bintan will be affected." (prb)