Thu, 09 Nov 2000

Slum residents vow to stay at City Council

JAKARTA (JP): Dozens of squatters from a number of slum areas in the capital, accusing the authorities of forcibly removing them from their shanties, vowed on Wednesday to remain in the City Council compound until they receive appropriate compensation.

Under the coordination of the Urban Poor Consortium (UPC), the protesters, including housewives and children, said their houses had been all they owned, leaving them no choice but to do everything within their power, including camping out in the council compound, to receive compensation for their losses.

One of the protesters, Sutarto, alias Sitok, 38, said their houses were the only thing of value they owned.

"We have no idea where we will live after being forced to move out of our homes," said Sitok.

As of Wednesday, the protesters had not heard anything about their demand for compensation. Their representatives are still discussing the issue with councillors.

Sitok, a scavenger originally from Pekalongan, Central Java, said he had lived in a shanty in the slum area under the Karang Anyar railway flyover in Karang Anyar subdistrict, Central Jakarta, for the past two years.

He said he was one of dozens of people in the area whose houses were cleared away by the city authorities on Monday.

Angered by the action of the authorities, they gathered at the City Council complex that same day to lodge a protest. They were joined by several other people who said they were victims and would-be victims of similar actions in other slum areas in the capital, including Pondok Kopi, Kebon Sawah, Cipinang Cempedak and Kebon Jagung.

The protesters said they could not understand why such harsh actions were being carried out by the government during the reform era.

"During the era of (former president) Soeharto, we never saw this type of action. People like us were usually relocated temporarily because, for example, the president was about to pass by the area. Later, we were allowed to return," said another protester, Bejo, 63, has lived in the area beneath the Karang Anyar flyover for 36 years.

"We're also the owners of this country and the children of this nation. Therefore, the city administration has no right to move us from our homes," he said.

Judging by their remarks and the cooking utensils, sleeping mats and clothes they brought with them, it appears the protesters are serious in their threat to remain at the City Council complex on Jl. Kebon Sirih, Central Jakarta, until their demands are met.

The group sang a medley of protest songs by Iwan Fals on Wednesday, while dozens of police personnel could do nothing but look on and listen.

Several female protesters cooked eels on two stoves set up on the sidewalk, while others prepared rice.

"We collected the money for the food," said Nurmedi Silitonga, a mother from Pondok Kopi in East Jakarta, who was hugging her son.

She said a sign had been placed on her shanty indicating that it was scheduled for destruction.

A number of people, apparently members of UPC, passed out packages of rice to the protesters in the afternoon.

According to the protesters, they slept on the sidewalk in front of the complex because the police expelled them from the compound in the evening.

"They said if we refused to leave the compound we would be taken to city police headquarters," Nurmedi said.

A number of those gathered are taking part in the protest on a shift system with their spouses.

"I come here to relieve my husband," Nurmedi said. (asa)