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Thuggery a part of life at city's traditional markets

Jakarta Post - May 31, 2007

Jakarta – Gang activity in South Jakarta's Kebayoran Lama market will be hard to eradicate since both local authorities and illegal street traders benefited from their presence, a criminologist has argued.

The local administration has allowed thugs to extort traders while police have allowed gangs to take over the job of ensuring security, Rudi Satrio of the University of Indonesia said Saturday. Many illegal street vendors had no choice but to give the thugs money in return for "security", he added.

A fight last Tuesday between two gangs, the Betawi Brotherhood Forum (FBR) and the Association of Betawi Families (IKB), over the control of parking along Jl. Ciledug Raya and the collection of illegal levies left two people dead.

Kebayoran Lama district head Tahrir said he knew of the existence of several gangs collecting illegal levies in and around the market. "I've been hearing about it since I was transferred here two years ago. But I can't do anything about it because the issues of levies and thuggery are just beyond my authority," he said.

Tahrir said he was only responsible for moving vendors from streets to reduce traffic congestion. However, he admitted the traders always returned to their places as soon as his staff left the area.

"We also tried to relocate them to a place behind the market, but that failed. Traders want a quick result and prefer to go back to the street where they can get more customers," he said.

Tahrir said dealing with violence and intimidation at the market was the responsibility of police.

Separately, Comr. M. Priyono, who heads the Kebayoran Lama police, said he found it hard to handle thuggery as the most frequent victims, traders, often refused to testify.

"Traders are reluctant to be involved in the legal process. They don't want to have any problems with the gangs because that would affect their businesses," he said. He said police also found it hard to go ahead with cases without reports from victims.

Rudi, however, said the criminal code allowed police to investigate extortion cases without such reports. "Police can conduct an investigation any time they come across a case of illegal levy collection," he said.

Traders who operate illegally along Jl. Ciledug Raya and around Kebayoran Lama market said they felt safe after paying their daily protection fee to gang members from the IKB. Traders pay between Rp 2,000 (US$ 22 cents) and Rp 12,000 per day to the gangs to protect them against raids by the city's public order authority.

"The gangsters always tell us about upcoming operations so we can get ready and save our merchandise before the officers come," said a vendor.

Danuri, a fruit vendor of 15 years, said he paid Rp 4,000 per day, but he did not mind as long as he could run his business without disruptions. "I am okay with the fee, I have no choice. But I really need them to keep the situation right for me to be able to boost my sales," he told the Post on Wednesday.