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Indonesian govt under fire for mud volcano compensation

by Staff Writers
Jakarta (AFP) Feb 28, 2008
A decision by the Indonesian government to allot millions of dollars in state funds to compensate victims of a mud volcano disaster came under fire Thursday from activists and a legislator.

Public works minister Djoko Kirmanto announced that 700 billion rupiah (77 million dollars) had been earmarked for victims as well as efforts to divert the mudflow in East Java into a nearby river, local reports said.

But the decision to use state funds rather than force the private company connected to Indonesia's wealthy welfare minister, which is seen by many as being responsible for the debacle, has sparked outrage.

"This process blatantly shows a conspiracy between businessmen, political forces and the government," said Taufik Basyiri, a lawyer from the team defending the interests of the mud volcano victims.

"And it is the government which now has been duped into joining the scheme."

The cause of the unusual disaster has been hotly contested, with environmental groups and some experts saying that the mud flow, which started spewing in May 2006, was triggered by shoddy safety precautions during gas drilling by energy company Lapindo Brantas.

The company has argued that the volcano was caused by an earthquake near the city of Yogyakarta, about 250 kilometres (155 miles) away.

Lapindo is linked to a business group owned by Indonesia's welfare minister Aburizal Bakrie, whose family topped Forbes Asia's 2007 Indonesia rich list with a net worth of 5.4 billion dollars.

"Lapindo, in this case through Aburizal Bakrie, has managed to draw the government into the conspiracy and made it willing to pay for something which should have been entirely the responsibility of Lapindo," Basyiri said.

An Indonesian court last year declared that the mud volcano, which has inundated a wide swathe of industrial and agricultural land in Sidoarjo district and left 15,000 people homeless, was a natural phenomenon.

Indonesia's parliament also backed the natural cause theory last week, though police are pursuing a criminal case against several suspects, including Lapindo executives.

Riza Damanik, a deputy director of the country's leading environmental watchdog WALHI, said that Lapindo was shirking its responsibility to pay.

"And as a taxpayer, I cannot accept that money from the people be used to pay for the mistake of Lapindo, a private enterprise," he added.

Legislator Permadi told AFP that the move showed the "stupidity" of the government.

"The government is too soft in dealing with Aburizal Bakrie. He is the richest man in Indonesia and should take full responsibility for the mistakes of one of his companies," Permadi said.

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