Sun, 24 Aug 2003

Terrified senior citizens held hostage for a third day

Zakki Hakim, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The violent attack on the century-old Pniel nursing home on Jl. Samanhudi in Central Jakarta apparently has not satisfied the unidentified attackers, who smashed their way in on Thursday and remain holed up there alongside dozens of terrified senior citizens.

As of Saturday afternoon, some 30 men were still essentially occupying the compound, milling around ominously in the garden.

The thugs managed to break down several sections of the wall that surrounds the compound. Most of the holes in the wall are located near the rooms where 71 of the patients sleep.

The nursing home director Stien Hitipeuw said on Saturday that the thugs had been loitering around the nursing home for over a week, as a protracted legal dispute -- reportedly with Bank Artha Graha -- over the ownership of the building and the valuable 7,000-square-meter plot of land seems to be coming to a violent resolution. The value of the land itself is estimated at approximately Rp 70 billion, (about US$ 8.3 million)

Stien implied that there was a strong indication that the presence of the thugs was connected to the land dispute with Artha Graha, which is controlled by controversial businessman Tomy Winarta. However, it was unclear who ordered the attack, and the thugs refused to answer any questions from journalists at the nursing home.

Stien could not hide her disgust of the police for their total lack of a response and seeming disregard of the horror that the 71 residents were experiencing.

"Our greatest weapon is prayer. God will help us," she said to all the residents during a sermon on Saturday morning at the Christian-affiliated home.

The senior citizens defiantly gathered in the garden in full view of the thugs who have been terrorizing them, to sing hymns and pray.

Stien speculated that another strike could be imminent Saturday night.

Meanwhile, Central Jakarta Police deputy chief Adj. Comr. Ricky F. Wakanno claimed by phone that his office had deployed officers to the location, however, local journalists there did not see one police officer on Saturday.

"I will personally check the location and coordinate with the Sawah Besar subprecinct to prevent further attacks," he said.

The attack, which was broadcast throughout on national TV, has worried many of the patients' relatives, some of whom quickly rushed to the nursing home.

One family member, Semiati, 35, saw the news on TV on Saturday morning and left her office to check on her mother, Kamina, 78.

After watching the TV news, Semiati had the impression that the nursing home was totally demolished and there could have been fatalities. She felt relieved that her mother was in reasonably good condition and that nobody has been physically assaulted yet.

Kamina -- who has lived in Southeast Asia's oldest nursing home, originally named Diaconie Hofjie, for the past five years -- was intensely frightened during the attack and still remains nearly in a state of shock.

"This is a place where old people live. Why are they doing this to our home?," she asked through her tears.

Kamina's used to live with her family, but she sold the family apartment in Kemayoran, Central Jakarta, five years ago, and moved to Pniel.

"Mother wouldn't have to live in this nursing house if she hadn't sold the apartment. Now we don't have a real family house," said Semiati.

Kamina quickly replied, "I admit it was my mistake. I'm sorry so please don't bring it up ever again."

She added that she was quite upset and worried about where she would live if the thugs succeeded in kicking her out.