Wed, 19 Mar 2003

Students arrested over alleged arson at airport

Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Police arrested three students on Tuesday for allegedly inciting a rally at Polonia airport in Medan to demand the government disburse resettlement funds for refugees from Aceh.

Darwin Syahputra, Joranda Irfan and Jusron Yusri of the Medan Institute of Technology were taken to the local police station after police suspected them of attempted arson.

Witnesses said a group of police officers beat the three students up before taking them to the police station.

Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Bagus Kurniawan confirmed the arrest, but said he would release the students as soon as they had received medical treatment.

"We are not providing them with medical treatment because we detained them," Bagus said.

The students had turned angry after police prevented them from joining 1,500 refugees from Aceh who had set up a human roadblock near the airport.

The refugees were demanding a meeting with Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah, about to return to Jakarta after a four-day visit to Aceh and North Sumatra on Tuesday.

It was the second rally in front of the airport within a week to demand resettlement funds that had been withheld by Bachtiar following a report of a Rp 2.6 billion (US$289,000) scam. The central government has allocated Rp 105 billion to some 12,000 refugee families, with each family due to receive Rp 8.75 million.

More than 4,000 families had not yet received the money when Bachtiar suspended disbursement of the funds. The minister did not make time to hold talks with either local government officials or the refugees to resolve the issue.

Hundreds of refugees have protested the slow disbursement of the funds for almost two weeks. One of them died on Saturday of malnutrition, while four others were hospitalized for staging a hunger strike.

On Monday some 5,000 refugees staged a fresh rally in front of the gubernatorial office.

Director of the Medan Legal Aid Institute Irham Buana Nasution refuted police allegations that the three students had intended to set the airport on fire.

"They had not intended to do any such thing. The police simply arrested them because they tried to break through the security cordon," Irham said.