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Stranded settlers sleep under 'enemy' watch

South China Morning Post - July 28, 2000

Vaudine England in Jayapura – About 200 Indonesian transmigrants took shelter under the Papuan independence flag in Jayapura this week, following the failure of the central Government to care for them.

Sent by Jakarta some years ago to settle on land near the Irian Jaya capital under the transmigration programme, the Javanese settlers had had enough of their new life. Hungry and homeless, the settlers bunked down in what has become known as the headquarters of the Papuan independence movement.

The Javanese had walked for two days to reach Jayapura to ask the Government to help them return to Java. Since becoming transmigrants, 22 of the group have died. Many of the survivors are ill and complain that the Government has not provided schools, health centres or other facilities for them.

Last week, the latest death from illness prompted a seven-hour long demonstration, complete with a corpse, in front of the regional government office. The local representative of the Transmigration Department, Budi Singulinga, was punched in the face at the tense stand-off. At a meeting with the Governor on Monday, they were told they were free to go home, but had to find the money for the sea passage themselves.

It was a perfect opportunity for Satgas Papua – a pro-independence paramilitary organisation. Dressed in combat fatigues adorned with the Papuan independence flag and pictures of Jesus Christ, these men made available their office in the main street of Jayapura.

It is named the Irian Cultural Centre and features two flag-poles on its roof. The slightly taller pole carries the Indonesian flag, with the second pole flaunting the Papuan flag. After a couple of nights sleeping on the street after the shops and night market had closed, the Javanese appeared happy to have a night under shelter, and under the benign guard of Satgas Papua.

"The transmigrants had problems with the police and the Government, so we offered them shelter, food and help," said Benny Sawai, a Satgas Papua member. "The Government brought them here [to Irian Jaya] but then gave them no money or facilities to live."

Only after the Javanese accepted Papuan protection did the Government move to help them. On Tuesday, staff of the Department of Social Welfare arrived to take the Javanese to a new settlement area near Sentani, 45 minutes' drive from Jayapura. Although the Department of Social Welfare has found a building to house the displaced people, they have yet to provide any food, forcing the group to rely on handouts.