Children, who took refuge along with their parents after fighting occurred over a regency division in South Sulawesi, are badly in need of medical help as they are suffering from diarrhea and respiratory problems.
The children are languishing in refugee camps in Darma neighborhood in Polewali Mamasa (Polmas) regency. They are among some 5,000 people who fled clashes on Sept. 29 and Sept. 30 precipitated by a decision to split Polmas into two regencies -- Polmas and Mamasa.
At least three people were killed in the fighting between opponents and supporters of the separation. Those opposed to the split were residents of the subdistricts of Aralle, Tabulahan and Mambi.
They rejected the government's bid to incorporate the three subdistricts into Mamasa regency, due to ethnic, religious and economic factors.
It was not clear how many children are suffering from diarrhea and respiratory problems. However, most of the displaced people are women and children.
Hira, a doctor working at the Darma refugee camps, was quoted by Antara as saying on Friday the stocks of medicine were limited, while there were many patients in need of help for diarrhea and respiratory problems.
No deaths were reported as a result of the ailments, but one refugee identified as Rauf, 30, from Mambi reportedly died early on Friday due to a heart attack.
Rauf's death brought the number of deaths among refugees to five. The refugees have been under heavy stress at the camps for almost one month as they had to abandon their farmland that was ready for harvest.
Nurliah, 22, another refugee from Mambi, said she hoped the conflict over the controversial division would end before Ramadhan, which begins on Monday.
"We all want to return home soon and the conflict to be resolved properly," said M. Sa'ir, 50, a former head of Rante Bulaha village in Mambi.
He said the conflict also deprived children of access to education. They are living in squalor due to a the lack of clean water and clothing.
Ruslan, a 13-year old elementary school student from Aralle, said he had not attended school for 30 days after he fled the clashes along with his parents.
Crying, he called on local authorities to restore security in his village, so he would be able to go back to school soon.
Separately on Friday, South Sulawesi Deputy Governor Syahrul Yasin Limpo held peace talks between those in support and against the Polmas split.
Mamasa is a predominantly Christian area, while residents from Aralle, Mambi and Tabulahan subdistricts are mostly Muslims.
The three dead victims came from these three subdistricts.
In order to prevent further clashes, Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno has ordered the postponement of the government's decision to divide Polmas along ethno-religious lines.
The controversial separation is endorsed by Law No. 11/2002 on the creation of Mamasa regency.
"If there is a conflict like that in the divided regency, the split must be suspended or status quo restored," Hari told journalists in Makassar, South Sulawesi, earlier on Oct. 3.
He said the division was actually aimed at improving administrative services for local people.
The minister told the regional administration to deal with any problems stemming from the policy enacted by the central government.
South Sulawesi Governor Amin Syam has blamed the central government for failing to accommodate the aspirations of the local people.
The provincial administration had suggested that the three subdistricts opposed to the split be excluded from the newly created regency, but the central government disregarded the suggestion. [Source: Jakarta Post]
Posted on 2003-10-29