Homesteaders Face Violence
MEDAN, INDONESIA — SIXTEEN years ago, Sagum left his crowded native Java for more space and a better life on Sumatra. With land and other assistance from the government, the farmer settled in Aceh to build a better life for his family. Today, Sagum and about 100 other Javanese huddle in fear in four houses on the outskirts of this Sumatran capital, refugees from mounting Acehnese violence.
``We are afraid for our lives, it's very dangerous there,'' he says, referring to attacks on Javanese by Acehnese rebels. In Aceh and other provinces in Indonesia, Sagum and millions of other Javanese homesteaders, known as transmigrants, face growing bitterness among the native population.
For 30 years, the Indonesian government has pursued one of the most ambitious population resettlement and development programs in recent times. Although scaled back in recent years, more than 4.5 million people have been relocated to ease congestion and tension on Java, where 60 percent of Indonesia's 180 million people live.
But the often better-educated and more-aggressive Javanese are causing problems with their neighbors. The settlers get five acres of good land and other benefits worth thousands of dollars, while many native people struggle to subsist. Many observers suspect the government is using the Javanese, who dominate political and economic life in Indonesia, as a political check on rebellious populations in Aceh, Timor, and Irian Jaya.
``The Javanese have the same approach that the Dutch had,'' says a Western observer familiar with the program. ``They have a lot of contempt and feel these people are savages and have to be educated.'' Life is better in Sumatra for the Javanese, but they have few alternatives if trouble crops up.
Sagum, who with the others left locked houses and animals behind, says he will go to South Sumatra to find temporary work and wait out the trouble.
``I have a good house,'' he says. ``I want to go back, if the situation gets better.''