Subject: JP: East Timorese refugees face land dispute

Jakarta Post November 9, 2000

East Timorese refugees face land dispute

SINGARAJA, North Bali (JP): The small and remote village of Sumberkelampok in Buleleng regency, has emerged as a new political commodity for several non-governmental organizations (NGOs) dealing with environmental issues.

Located near the Bali Barat (West Bali) National Park, Sumberkelampok village presently houses thousands of refugees from East Timor. They are mostly Balinese transmigrants and government officials who resided in Indonesia's former 27th province.

Some NGO officials have accused these people of illegally acquiring plots of land within the park's protected forest area.

A number of environmental activists, including Made Mangku from the Secretariat of Environmental Observers and Andr is Sulaiman Manalu from the Bali chapter of the Legal Aid Foundation's environmental division, believe that their presence could arouse conflict with local residents.

Sumberkelampok is probably the only village in Bali which has no administrative status. During the early part of the 20th century, the village was inhabited by plantation workers employed by a Dutch company. During the New Order, two plantation companies -- PT Margarana and PT DarmaJati -- also housed their workers in the village.

Having been resident in the village for quite a long time, they built several public facilities including an elementary school known as SD Inpres.

But, the regional government has never registered and legally acknowledged it as a "permanent village".

The government, instead, urged the villagers to participate in a resettlement project outside Bali.

"The accusations lodged by some activists against these refugees are groundless," claimed Nyoman Mudiyasa, lawyer for the East Timor refugees.

Nyoman explained that they had been given the right to occupy plots of land in areas previously owned by PT Margarana.

"These areas are not parts of the protected forest," said Nyoman adding that a conflict between the residents and the "outsiders" was unlikely.

"Most of the local villagers have genuinely accepted them," the lawyer claimed.

Made Kampiun, the traditional village chief, said they empathized with and welcomed the refugees.

"They went to East Timor as pioneer transmigrants and also contributed to the development of that former province," said Made.

According to Made, the Balinese people and the government should show empathy for their plight. "They have lost everything and left behind all their property and belongings in East Timor because of former president B.J. Habibie's erroneous policy," Made commented.

Made added that most people in the village had warmly welcomed the refugees especially when they realized that the Buleleng regent had given the green light for Sumberkelampok to be declared a "permanent village".

"The arrival of these newcomers has given us more hope of improving the village's administrative status," he said.

Around 760 Balinese families were forced to flee the former province of East Timor during the referendum campaign in l999. Clashes between the pro-independence and pro-integration factions created a chaotic situation and threatened the lives of "outsiders", including thousands of Balinese families who had lived there since the l970s.

These dispossessed people then returned to their home towns with the hope of reconstructing their ruined lives.

When they first arrived back in Bali, the refugees were dispersed to various places around the island. They tried to track down their relatives and friends who would still be willing to lend a hand.

It seemed that both the local government and the people were reluctant to accept them.

Without conducting any prior checks, Bali's Vice Governor Gusti Bagus Alit Putra abruptly announced that the provincial government was unable to find any state properties which could be used to resettle these refugees.

Accompanied by Bali Governor Dewa Made Beratha and his deputy Alit Putra, a delegation of Balinese refugees lodged complaints with the Minister of Transmigration, Minister of Home Affairs and other high-ranking officials demanding state compensation for their losses.

"I've left a two-hectare plot of land, a house and a shrine as well as a flourishing restaurant business," complained Lilir, who was born in Baturiti, Tabanan. In former East Timor, Lilir along with Made Sutedja, Nurjana and Wayan Rokana were considered the most prosperous Balinese farmers.

"It is just a bitter memory for us," added Rokana sadly.

Unable to find a reliable patron, they finally set up a solidarity forum led by Wayan Sudirta. They were also backed by several lawyers.

"Alit's statement was a big lie," Wayan Ariawan, one of lawyers, claimed. They sought information from several related government agencies and friends in local NGOs.

"Our friends from various NGOs informed us about Sumberkelampok," added Ariawan.

For more than eight months, the local government still had not named Sumberkelampok village as a new resettlement area for the refugees.

Feeling helpless and angry, the refugees seized the Buleleng regional office of the Ministry of Transmigration.

Now, there are 127 Balinese refugees from East Timor who are trying to rebuild their lives in this dry and infertile forested area, the former property of PT Margarana.

"The climate is so hot and dry. We don't have enough water sources here except in the rainy season," said Kisid.

Kisid, however, said they were used to such hardships and that the conditions in East Timor at the time when they first arrived were even worse than here.

"But, we really could make it. Many of us became successful farmers. I am sure we can develop this village in the near future," Kisid said optimistically.

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