Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Hundreds of protesters yesterday clashed briefly with police complaining about the government’s failure to pay out compensation as promised almost a year since they were hit by a major environmental disaster.
Hundreds of victims arrived in Surabaya (East Java province) from four of the villages in Porong sub-district (Sidoarjo Regency) affected by a five-month long mudflow with the intention of talking to local authorities to find out why they have not been compensated after so much time.
However, when Sidoarjo regency officials refused to meet with them, many protesters tried to vent their anger by breaking into Surabaya airport. As a result of police intervention two protesters were arrested.
Since late May 2006 till November, hot mud erupted from the earth when the PT Lapindo Brantas company drilled in a natural gas field. A river of mud bubbled to the surface and flooded eight villages which the government has since declared uninhabitable. More than 12,000 people were evacuated, forced to give up at least 1810 homes, 20 industrial plants, 18 schools and 12 mosques, not to mention their many rice fields.
It is thought that the gas exploration company did not respect all safety procedures, but company executives blame instead the May 27 earthquake in Yogyakarta which caused some fractures around the borehole and allowed the outflow of mud.
Soon after the disaster Indonesian Vice President Jusuf Kalla ordered Lapindo do compensate the affected families, many of whom lost everything in the disaster.
The company announced however that it would pay compensation only those with title deeds to land and buildings. Out of 600 hectares (1,500 acres) in the affected area, only 430 (1,100 acres) are duly registered on land ownership certificates. Possession of the remaining land is recorded manually at sub-district offices.
The Porong disaster has negatively impacted the provincial economy. The mudflow forced the authorities to close the toll road between Sidoarjo and Surabaya on dozens of occasions. This has affected the tourist trade with a negative impact on hotels, restaurants and stores. Business owners have called for tax relief to compensate for their losses for a total of about US$ 400 million.