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JAKARTA, Indonesia (May 27, 2000 – Indonesia Observer/Kabar Irian)---Impoverished transmigrants at a woeful resettlement site in Irian Jaya (Papua) are living in abject misery and have been manipulated by corrupt government officials, two prominent legal aid groups said yesterday.

Representatives of the Indonesian Legal Aid Foundation (LBHI) and the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) told reporters that transmigrants living at Bonggo, 125 kilometers (75 miles) west of the provincial capital, Jayapura, have been lied to and neglected by the government.

At a meeting held at the Transmigration and Population Ministry in South Jakarta, legal aid workers said the transmigrants are lacking food, potable water, medicine, and education services.

"The transmigrants, who are from West Java, Jakarta, Central Java and East Nusa Tenggara, amounting to 350 families, have to walk on foot for one day and one night before they can reach the nearest community unit near Jayapura," said LBHI Jayapura office head Damianus Wakman.

"Their land is very acidic, so for three consecutive years they have been unable to harvest any crops. The area is also very swampy, and whenever it rains, the region is always flooded, with floodwaters rising up to one meter inside their houses," he added.

Transmigration and Population Minister Al Hilal Hamdi earlier this week said many of the problems at resettlement sites were due to the presence of ninjas and other hired provocateurs.

But there have been no reports of any ninjas turning up at the Bonggo site to make life any more difficult for the transmigrants.

Kontras founder Munir told the Observer that many transmigration programs have become bogged down, and the minister could possibly be using ninjas as scapegoats for all of the problems.

Wakman said at least 17 transmigrants at Bonggo have died so far this year due to malaria, starvation or snake bites.

"Water is another problem making their condition worse, because the level of acidity in the water at the swampy area is very high. For clean water, they just depend on rain," he said.

"Locally made bridges have been destroyed by floodwaters, so subsequently they have become isolated. There are no schools for their children, and the students have become dropouts with dim prospects for the future."

The Transmigration Ministry generally conducts field research for several months or even years, before community groups are resettled at certain sites, but that didn’t appear to be the case at Bonggo.

Wakman said the transmigrants are trapped there, and officials from the ministry always ignore their desperate pleas to be sent back home to escape the misery of the resettlement site.

According to Wakman, ministry officials merely say there is no policy to send any of the transmigrants back home.

"For the first year or so, residents of transmigration sites generally receive daily allocations of rice and cash, before their plants can be harvested. But in the case of Bonggo, officials in charge of the resettlement site exploited the settlers.

"They were made to carry out certain projects, such as building drains.

"They were paid with rice and cash, which they were supposed to receive without charge, while the projects had all already been financed by the state. Manipulation and corruption are still taking place at eight resettlement sites near Jayapura."

On Thursday, the Jayapura LBHI team, accompanied by a parish priest, met with members of the House of Representatives Commission VII, requesting that exploitation of transmigrants be stopped, and that information on the welfare of the resettlers not be manipulated.

Many of the transmigrants at Bonggo have fled from the accursed site and are now living in camps erected by the local government at Jayapura.

The government’s controversial transmigration program has often been criticized, because although it aims to develop isolated regions by taking people out of densely populated areas, it has frequently failed to take cultural differences into account.

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