Sat, 15 May 2004

Squatters try to hold Batam to ransom

Fadli, Batam

Squatters in Tanah Longsor, Batam, who had earlier rejected the compensation offered by the local government in return for their vacating a site owned by the state, continued to press their demands on Friday for more money before they would agree to go quietly.

Meanwhile, Fredy, 28, who was hit by a police rubber bullet in the right leg, and Safredi, 20, who was hit by a rubber bullet in the abdomen during a riot by the squatters on Thursday are still being treated by the outpatient unit of a local hospital.

According to Afrizon, a community leader and the neighborhood chief in the area, the injuries suffered by the two men were quite serious.

He complained that the government had ignored the demands by the squatters for what they considered reasonable compensation, and that it was this that had led to Thursday's disturbances. He said that low compensation on offer from the government was the main cause of long-standing problems regarding the eviction of illegal squatters in Batam.

"The government paid no notice to the people's demands for adequate compensation. They directly brought in the bulldozers to destroy our homes. We had to stop them. As they wouldn't back down, we had to defend ourselves," said Afrizon to The Jakarta Post.

According to Afrizon, who said he had been abused by the police, the government team, which consisted of officials from the Batam Authority, Batam municipality, the police and the prosecutors' office, had offered compensation of Rp 300,000 (US$35) and a plot of land measuring 6 X 10 meters to each household head.

"We rejected this and unanimously agreed to demand Rp 2.5 million per family. If they pay us this, we will vacate the area," he said.

According to Emi, 45, who has lived at the site illegally for 11 years, the money on offer was not enough even to move her few sticks of furniture to new accommodation.

As no agreement had been reached between the squatters and government negotiators, Emi said, they had decided to remain on the site, which has an area of 10 hectares and is located in Tanah Longsor, Lubuk Baja subdistrict.

The site, which is inhabited by various ethnic groups, including Batak, Palembang and Minangkabau people, was still tense after the riot on Thursday. A group of men were seen loitering at the entrance to the area.

The squatters began to build their shanties when the island was declared an industrial zone by the Soeharto government.

Meanwhile, Batam Authority spokesman Dwi Djoko Wiwoho said that the government would press ahead with the evictions.

He said that the demand for Rp 2.5 per household head was untenable.

"In the light of the disturbances, we are now discussing the matter with the Batam legislature, but the eviction plan will still go ahead. The area in question is not zoned for residential purposes, but rather for the service sector," said Djoko. He did not say when the next attempt to evict the squatters would be made.

In the meantime, the local legislature's deputy speaker, Soeryo Respationo, said that an official letter had been sent to the government team to delay Thursday's eviction attempt. But the letter had been ignored. "Basically, the actions of the administration have not been approved by the legislature," Soeryo said.