‘Mud Volcano’ Victims Downcast over President’s Visit

JAKARTA ~ Victims of a devastating “mud volcano” in Indonesia complained this week that a fresh compensation scheme thrashed out by the president during a visit to the disaster area in East Java was not enough.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono toured the area for three days after homeless victims met him at his residence last weekend to tell him they had yet to receive compensation from the company blamed for the disaster.

Some 600 hectares of land has been inundated with sludge that began spewing when Lapindo Brantas, a company linked to Welfare Minister Aburizal Bakrie, was drilling for gas without proper equipment in May 2006.

During his visit to Sidoarjo, Yudhoyono ordered that Lapindo immediately pay 20 percent of compensation due to more than 500 families who have already had their claims verified, the state-run Antara news agency reported.

A further 10,000 claimants must be paid their 20-percent tranche by mid-September, Yudhoyono said, with the balance to be paid to all within two years.

Lapindo promised to pay Rp100 billion (US$11.1 million) per week into a third-party account to cover the payments, he added.

But the homeless residents, many of whom lost documents proving that some of the destroyed land was theirs, complained that the settlement was insufficient.

“If I could meet the president, I would still tell him that we need to be paid in full within four months,” one refugee, Bambang Wooryantoyo, said.

“I am disappointed with the president’s visit. We were not invited to meet him and there were no plans for him to visit us,” said Bambang, who is among some 2,700 refugees stuck at the largest camp in the area.

“Twenty percent is not enough to buy another house. We want a better kind of scheme,” Sunarto, a camp coordinator, said.

Andi Darussalam Tabussala, vice president of the company Lapindo set up to deal with the compensation, confirmed that 507 claims were now partly paid.

On Wednesday Yudhoyono handed over a gift for the victims of Rp10 billion to the Sidoarjo district head, donated by the business community and state energy companies.

The president later returned to Jakarta.

Engineers have spent two months trying to plug the unusual volcano by dropping concrete balls on chains into its yawning crater to no avail, with a plan to build a massive concrete dam 15 storeys high now being mulled.

Meanwhile, around 300 victims protested in front of Vice President Jusuf Kalla’s office in Jakarta.

Kalla “said that we should not lose even one cent. We are reminding him of his promise,” one of the protesters identified as Rois told Okezone online news portal.

Another protester, Widiono, fainted when she was caught in the middle of the pushing and shoving with security officers.

“I am not a thief. We are here for our rights. I won’t go home until I get my rights,” she told local media.

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