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Land tensions flare for former refugees KUPANG - Tensions between sharecroppers and landowners in Indonesia's western half of Timor island over limited cultivable land have led to outbreaks of violence that threaten to escalate, say local officials.

"There just is not enough land for everybody. My 1 sqkm village hosts more former refugees than we have long-term residents," said acting village director, Esaf Dakabesi, of Tuapukan, home to 3,750 people who fled violence in Timor-Leste in 1999 to West Timor during the independence conflict. The total village population is less than 6,000.

Most of the hundreds of thousands who fled have since returned to Timor-Leste, according to the UN Refugee Agency, but thousands of farmers remained, working as hired help in West Timor's districts of Belu and Kupang.

Those who chose Indonesian citizenship have a constitutional right to land ownership, but land tenure laws favour long-term residents, said Winston Rondo, executive director of CIS Timor, a local NGO formed in 1999 to respond to refugee needs.

"Land is gold to us and without it, we are nobody," said Gaspar Fernandes, former refugee-turned-Indonesian "new citizen", as he is now classified by the government.

He and a collective of 37 families recently gathered collateral and cash to move into government housing in the village of Merdeka where they will pay the landowner rent until they have 65,000,000 rupiahs, or US$7,200, when they will own the land.

However, even if they can save money through sharecropping and mostly day labour, at most 20 percent of new citizens have the identity cards required to own a land title, said Rondo.

"People find ways around it. They have married long-time landowners. Or they may be one of the few with identity cards. But that is the exception. Meanwhile, we are looking at a ticking bomb as land pressures grow," he added.

His organization has registered six clashes this past year in Kupang between what he calls "old" and "new" residents, where former refugees are accused of illegal squatting and landowners of extortion.

Kupang landowner Peat Yan Sinlae and torched remains of his property. Land tensions between landowners and tenant farmers have escalated into arson attacks throughout 2010.
Kupang landowner Peat Yan Sinlae and torched remains of his property. Land tensions between landowners and tenant farmers have escalated into arson attacks throughout 2010. Phuong Tran/IRIN



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Related blog entries (category 'Economy') Tags: Kupang, land, ownership, problem, refugees


Posted in Economy @ 10 December 2010 02:17 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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