Subject: Former East Timor transmigrants back to square one

The Jakarta Post March 1, 2001

Former East Timor transmigrants back to square one

The death and destruction which enveloped East Timor after the self-determination referendum in September 1999 also displaced thousands of people, including Balinese who had made the territory their home. The Jakarta Post's Pandaya visited recently a group of Balinese who are living in a national park after returning to their homeland. The following are his article and photographs.

BALI BARAT NATIONAL PARK, Bali (JP): Made Badung could not resist the temptation of moving to East Timor in 1991 after local government officials convinced him of a better future in the promised land.

He sold his property, cattle and belongings in his home village in the northern coastal regency of Buleleng, and off he went with fellow poor Balinese under the state-sponsored transmigration program.

Made, his wife and six children were entitled to two hectares of agricultural land in Suai, East Timor. Like Balinese migrants elsewhere, they were industrious and they became a prosperous community.

They were often envied by locals, who knew little about modern farming know-how. They bought property from locals as they grew wealthier; Made owned six hectares of farmland by 1999.

Yet it all came to nothing when he and other migrants had to flee rampaging proindependence militias after the referendum.

"We ran for our lives with nothing but the clothes on our backs," Made said at his home in West Bali National Park.

Made and another 126 Balinese transmigrant families who fled Suai, resettled on state land in Sumber Klampok in September 1999. Hundreds more have been accommodated elsewhere on the tourist island, according to their regencies of origin.

They have become "refugees" in their own homeland, living in abject poverty and relying almost exclusively on the government's help to survive.

In Sumber Klampok, they live in 3 meter by 3 meter shacks, each built on 400 square meters of land provided by the government. Shacks that have thatch roofs, walls of bamboo or plastic sheeting and dirt floors. There is no point in asking about matters of cleanliness.

There is no electricity. Drinking water is supplied by the local government, which also gives 400 grams of rice par day per person and Rp 1,500 in cash a day for each family. They also get seeds of food crops, and this season will be their first harvest of peanut, paddy and corn.

"But lately, the assistance has come very late and irregularly," said Made's wife.

Most households have makeshift places for offerings built from wooden sticks in their front yards. The huts are almost of the same "architectural" style as other farming homes in the area but one peculiar feature -- Balinese brown cows -- is missing.

Education is a serious problem as all resources are aimed at the bare necessities.

"There's no money to send the children to school. My teenage son works on a construction site in Singaraja," said a housewife who declined to identify herself.

The land is fertile but becomes virtually barren during the dry season because the area consists of limestone and the soil layer is thin. Groundwater is scarce and locals rely on tap water the government delivers by trucks as there are no pipelines.

Men are lucky if they can find employment in construction projects in town to help make ends meet.

The "resettlers" live across a road from a residential area. Its population of 1,800 comprises indigenous Balinese, who are mostly Hindu, and migrant Madurese, who are mostly Muslim.

"The neighbors are very helpful," says Made. "They came and helped us erect the shacks when we arrived."

The resettlers occupied the state land after a bitter struggle with the provincial government. They argued it was only fair for them to obtain the land as a substitute for the property they sold before participating in the transmigration program which turned into a disaster.

The forestry ministry's office strongly opposed the resettlement scheme for fear that the farmers would steal wood from the protected forest, hunt animals and clear more land for farming.

Poaching and illegal logging, allegedly involving residents of villages within the 20,000-hectare park and security officers, is already troubling for forest rangers.

The forestry office's conservation section chief, Tri Siswo Raharjo, said he worried the resettlers would encroach on the forest in times of food scarcity, such as during the dry season.

"How do you think they will survive when the soil is dry and they cannot produce anything?" he said.

According to Tri, all of Sumber Klampok occupies state land, which was formerly a coconut plantation.

The settlement dates back to the 1960s when job seekers moved in to work on the plantation. The plantation was formally closed in the early 1990s but former plantation workers refused to move and, with the support of NGO activists, demanded legal ownership of the property.

Some say the longtime residents welcomed the ex-transmigrants in the hope that their presence would strengthen their bargaining position in the disputed land ownership.

But all the village's new residents want to think about is rebuilding their shattered lives.

"As long as we have no better choice we don't even think of moving out," said Made. "We are starting life all over again."


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