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Indonesian Squatters Forced to Make Way for Development

Associated Press Writer

The jumble of shacks packed next to a six-lane highway and a stinking canal didn’t look like much, but to Kartini it was home.

She and her two children had lived there 10 years, until hundreds of police and club-wielding street toughs destroyed the settlement in west Jakarta to make way for luxury apartments.

“We are human beings,” Kartini says at a nearby bus shelter, where she and some of the other 400 evicted families now live. “Why are they treating us like animals?”

Kartini and thousands of other Indonesians have been squatting on such lands illegally, but with a severe shortage of cheap housing and virtually no assistance from the government, they have little choice.

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In November, the Geneva-based Center on Housing Rights and Evictions listed Indonesia as among the world’s worst violators of housing rights.

“Although few governments have done enough to enforce the widely recognized right to housing, this year Indonesia, Guatemala and Serbia-Montenegro stand out for their appalling disregard for housing rights,” said Scott Leckie, the group’s director.

Indonesia’s legions of poor were hit hard by the 1998 Asian financial crisis. Now, the country’s economy is slowly creaking back to life and developers are looking for real estate, so the poor are suffering again.

Rights campaigners say evictions are part of a larger picture of callousness toward the needy.

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In 2002, authorities in Jakarta banned pedicabs from the streets, putting thousands of the capital’s poorest out of work. Security forces have raided low-rent districts of Jakarta and forced hundreds of people without city identity cards to go back to their home villages.

“These people are being thrown on the scrapheap. They are being chopped up,” said Afrizal Malna, an activist with the Urban Poor Consortium.

The evictions come as the city government is spending millions of dollars on erecting and renovating statues. It recently spent $1.1 million fencing in the National Monument.

The evictions sometimes trigger bloody street battles, pitting residents against police and gangs hired by landowners. Dozens of people have been injured.

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Kartini, who like many Indonesians uses a single name, said she bought her plot from officials claiming to be acting for the owner. She said that she and other tenants -- mostly laborers, street vendors and drivers -- paid electricity and other bills and were offered no compensation for the loss of their homes.

“Now we are left with nothing,” she said. “What are my children going to do?”

The local government says people forced from their homes are offered compensation, and accuses those evicted at Kartini’s site of lying about having bought the land.

After the evictions, men with clubs guarded Kartini’s destroyed housing complex and refused entry to journalists and former residents looking to salvage their belongings. A few trees remained standing.

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Building projects were put on hold in Jakarta, a teeming city of 14 million people, when the Asian economic crisis hit in 1998 and the cost of building materials soared. Developers abandoned half-constructed buildings and left empty lots throughout the city.

But economic growth of around 4% a year has triggered a mini-boom in construction, with several shopping centers, apartments and office buildings either going up or already open.

The city government has also started a series of land reclamation projects and is clearing slums on the banks of Jakarta’s many rivers, saying they worsened floods two years ago that killed as many as 50 people.

“The government had to act,” said Muhayat, a spokesman for the Jakarta administration. “These people are a threat to our city and our future. If we don’t move them, then how will our investment climate improve?”

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That is of little comfort to the newly homeless.

“Without the small people like us, those officials would not be sitting on such comfortable seats,” said Suryawani, an unemployed bus driver. “They don’t think about the small people. We are Indonesians too.”


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