Tue, 21 Nov 2000

UNDP helps resettlement projects in torn Maluku

JAKARTA (JP): The Ministry of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure in cooperation with the government of Netherlands launched on Monday a US$2 million peace-building project on Kai islands in riot-torn Maluku.

The US$2 million grant from the Netherlands is being channeled through the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the resettlement program will be conducted by the Indonesian government, Minister of Settlement and Regional Infrastructure Erna Witoelar told a media briefing here.

The two-year program will focus on the handling of around 30 percent or 22,500 of some 75,000 people in Kai islands in Southeast Maluku, who fled the almost two years of bloody riots.

Around 1,000 houses will be built in the islands, located west of Maluku's capital Ambon, plus supporting facilities such as churches, mosques and health centers.

"We picked Southeast Maluku as conflicts in the region have died down. The people there have entered the level of physical as well as social and economic recovery," Erna explained.

Another area conducive for the rehabilitation program is Tual, also in Southeast Maluku, where residents from both warring camps of Muslims and Christians live in the same villages, she said.

"Similar projects will also be conducted in Seram and Buru islands. Once our contractor build houses without involving the locals, and it were burned down in the riots.

"Learning from previous experience, locals have to participate in the construction of buildings and other supporting facilities to forge their sense of belonging," the minister said.

Also signing the project agreement were Netherlands Ambassador to Indonesia S. Baron van Heemstra and UNDP resident representative Ravi Rajan.

Heemstra said the project is part of a move to permanently solve the problems in Maluku. "If this project works, we hope to see a better future for Indonesia," the ambassador said.

The envoy further stressed that the Netherlands is fully involved in humanitarian assistance and had no intention to meddle in the Maluku issue.

More than 4,000 people have been killed in months of violence in Maluku and North Maluku which was sparked by a dispute in the border of Batu Merah - Mardika in Ambon on Jan. 19 last year.

Erna further revealed that previously a total of 1,300 houses have been built in Southeast Maluku while there are a total of 200 barracks for refugees in North Maluku.

"We give the refugees options, whether to build houses or barracks. It is up to them to decide," Erna said.

The minister also revealed that there are around 400,000 Maluku refugees living in several neighboring provinces of East Nusa Tenggara, Irian Jaya and North Sulawesi.

"The most restive area in Maluku, however, is Ambon islands.

"We have to admit that the problem in Ambon is very complex since the influence of political tension from Jakarta is still running high.

"The problems are such as the attempts of the police and the Navy to handle security instead (of the Army) in Ambon and the slow economic recovery since there are no human resources and outsiders such as Laskar Jihad.. these are only few of the things that complicate the rehabilitation process," Erna explained.

Tension, however, resurfaced in Ambon following a series of incidents since Thursday, killing at least two people and injuring five others, mostly from gunshot wounds.

Security forces fired in the air to disperse a crowd of angry protesters who demanded the local authorities help locate 16 people on a speedboat who went missing after the vessel left Tulehu port, Salahutu district on Saturday.

The people pelted the gubernatorial office during the protest.

Sounds of gunfire were still heard in restive Pohon Pule and Batu Gantung areas late on Monday. (edt/49)