Priest calls for compensation for mudflow victims

An Indonesian priest has called for compensation for thousands of villagers who have lost their homes and livelihoods after an explosion at a part Australian-owned gas pipeline triggered a huge mudflow.

UCA News reports that Lela Saiwina tried to tell President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono how she and thousands of others have been suffering since an industrial accident triggered a mudflow that destroyed their homes a year ago.

"Mr President, have sympathy on us! We have stayed in refugee centres and lived in miserable conditions for almost a year!" she shouted while clutching her 2-year-old child that 17 April afternoon. The motorcade did not stop.

So Saiwina and the 200 other victims of the mudflow disaster in East Java's province's Porong sub-district, 675 kilometres southeast of Jakarta, continued their peaceful protest outside the presidential palace after Yudhoyono left.

After a drilling accident in Porong on 29 May 2006, hot mud began flowing from a gas well, setting off a pipeline blast that left 13 people dead and scores more injured. Building dams to channel the mud to the sea and throwing huge concrete balls into the crater failed to halt the mudflow.

The mud avalanche engulfed 1,810 houses, 18 schools, 15 factories, 15 mosques and 2 government offices in 12 villages of three sub-districts.

As a result, Saiwina, 47, told UCA News, "I can now see only the roof of my house and my two children cannot go to school."

Wearing a yellow T-shirt expressing their demand for cash compensation, the 47-year-old woman said: "I come to join this rally with my husband and children to claim our rights."

They now live, with more than 10,000 others displaced by the disaster, at a refugee camp in Pasar Baru, a market area of Porong. Lapindo Brantas Inc, which owns the gas well, feeds them each day.

The camp once accommodated 18,000 people, but some moved to rented houses. Lapindo is paying their rent for two years, but "our houses could be used for decades, so we demand cash compensation to buy new houses," Saiwina said.

Fr Cosmas Centis Fernandes, parish priest of St Maria Annuntiata in Sidoarjo, the main town of the district that includes Porong, told UCA News that the Catholic Church backs the demonstrators.

"We support them and their rights, and ask the authorities to hear their pleas and hopes," he said. Some of his parishioners joined the rally "to show their sympathy and solidarity with thousands of victims who still live in shelters," he added.

Many victims, including Saiwina, want cash compensation and refuse to move to rented houses or be relocated. "We will conduct this peaceful action until the government meets our demands," she declared at the rally.

Australian mining company Santos owns and 18 per cent "non-operating interest" in the project. A net provision of A$67 million (after recognition of insurance proceeds) was recorded as at 31 December 2006 in the company's books, according to ACN Newswire.

Mudflow victims request cash compensation for destroyed properties (The Indian Catholic, 26/4/07)
Mixed news (ACN Newsire, 26/4/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Santos website

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27 Apr 2007

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