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The Jakarta Post
Monday, October 22, 2007

Plight of Javanese refugees from Aceh

George Junus Aditjondro, Yogyakarta

The Helsinki peace agreement made on Aug. 15, 2005, between the
Indonesian government and the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) left some
"homework" for elected Aceh Governor Irwandy Yusuf and his North
Sumatra counterpart Rudolf Pardede.

This homework involves the lot of thousands of Javanese
transmigrants stranded in North Sumatra and Riau in the late
1990s and early 2000s after fleeing violent attacks by armed
groups.

Unfortunately, Governor Pardede perhaps forgets his province
harbors thousands of Javanese refugee families from Aceh living
in very poor conditions.

Aceh Governor Irwandy, a former GAM leader, also may not realize
the Javanese transmigrants were evicted by units of armed men,
who they believed were GAM combatants. This is especially
relevant now as Irwandy is focussing on rehabilitating thousands
of indigenous Acehnese villages and inviting foreign investors
to help reconstruct Aceh.

Irwandy presumably also doesn't realize under the Helsinki
agreement, the Javanese transmigrants who fled Aceh fall into
the category of "civilians who have suffered a demonstrable loss
due to the conflict".

According to the Helsinki agreement, this means they are
entitled to "an allocation of suitable farming land, employment
or, in the case of incapacity to work, adequate social security
from the authorities of Aceh".

The phrase "from the authorities of Aceh" should be highlighted.

And how do these internally displaced persons live in North
Sumatra, and what is in store for them in the future?

I recently visited a community of 72 families of Javanese
refugees from Aceh who had settled in the Sibatuloting mountain
range. They sought safety there coming from different parts of
Aceh. Now only 10 of these families remain in the Jati Mulia
hamlet of Bosar Nauli Village.

Why?

Their entire hamlet was destroyed allegedly by bulldozers and
excavators from pulp producer Toba Pulp Lestari (TPL) in the
neighboring district of Toba Samosir.

The incident occurred while 29 of the refugees and 24 other
Bosar Nauli villagers, accused of being "forest plunderers" by
local authorities, were imprisoned in Pematang Siantar, the
district capital.

Ironically, this was after they were officially settled in the
village by the same authorities, who had gave them IDs and had
collected land and property taxes from them for the past seven
years.

But no local politicians complained against TPL's land
acquisition, even though the residents were helpless Javanese
transmigrants who had previously fled powerful and armed groups.

The Sibatuloting case is merely the tip of the iceberg. Nobody
seems to care about the tens of thousands of Javanese
transmigrants who were moved to Aceh by the national
administration during the armed conflict between GAM and the
Indonesian Military, and who, against their will, often became
the "meat in the sandwich" between these two groups.

Neither the government agencies of North Sumatra or Aceh, or
Jakarta for that matter, seem to care about these people, most
of whom have not been able to return to their houses and farms
in Aceh.

So, it is high time for Governor Irwandy to visit and discuss
this matter with Governor Pardede.

On a higher level, Irwandy must bring this case to the attention
of the central government.

If the Indonesian government and former Aceh rebel group GAM are
to honor the Helsinki agreement they need to enable the Javanese
transmigrants to return to their former homes in Aceh.

Similarly, if the Finnish government wants to maintain its
reputation as peace broker in armed conflicts worldwide it must
talk to Indonesia and help these poor folks who were expelled to
remote areas in North Sumatra to return to their sweet Aceh home.

The writer, a guest lecturer at the Sanata Dharma University
postgraduate program in Religious and Cultural Studies, is
currently researching the political economy of post-Helsinki
reconstruction in Aceh. He can be reached at:
georgejunusaditjondro@gmail.com