Many still reluctant to
leave Merapi

Slamet Susanto, The Jakarta Post, Yogyakarta

About 20,000 people have been evacuated from the slopes of Mt. Merapi over the last few days, although many residents have refused to leave, fearing they will permanently lose land or livestock.

Most of those willing to leave their homes for safer areas were elderly people, pregnant women, or children.

Evacuation officials, assisted by police and military personnel, have fetched residents from their houses to makeshift shelters provided by the government.

At Umbulhardjo in Cangkringan district, Sleman, however, only 146 of the village's 2,048 residents were willing to evacuate.

Several other villages in Turi were also harder to evacuate than officials had anticipated. They were only able to convince a few dozen of the thousand residents of the area to leave.

Some hid in their houses and ignored the arrival of the officials. Most residents refused to leave because they were worried that their residences and villages would be confiscated to make way for the establishment of Mt. Merapi National Park.

""Everyone knows that the villages here have been included in the development plan of the park. If we move, they (the developers) will claim we are no longer at home here. Then, if the government closes this area for the park development, what can we do?"" asked Marijan, a noted local figure who is the spiritual guardian of Mt. Merapi.

Marijan said he had heard about the plan a long time ago, but its development was not clear.

""Actually the park development project is good way to help preserve nature. But if it will make the residents victims, it shouldn't happen. We have Sedumuk bathuk senyari bumi (An obligation to defend their land until the death),"" he said.

The controversy surrounding the development of the park appeared when the Ministry of Forestry issued a decree in 2004, announcing a project that would cover 28,272 hectares of land in four regencies - Magelang, Klaten, Boyolali and Sleman.

However, how the park will be managed, what its boundaries will be and the manner in which it will be established all remain unclear. Local residents have received limited information on the matter.

Other residents of the mountain refused to leave out of concerns of losing their livelihoods. ""I live on and support my family with cow milk. If I evacuate and my cows are not fed and die, where will I get money from?"" asked Trisno Wiyono, a resident of Tritis Kulon, Purwobinangun district, Sleman.

For the sake of his cows, Trisno insisted on staying in his house. ""I submit to my fate. Life or death depends to God. If it's already time for me to be hit by the eruption, I could be hit anywhere,"" he said.

Residents of Sengi at Dukun district in Magelang smelled sulfur in the air on Tuesday evening and awoke to thick ash covering the leaves of plants, indicating a volcanic ash fall over night.

""We were confused last night,"" said Iksan, a Sengi resident.

Some villagers have evacuated, but other people in Sengi have opted to remain in their homes.

Iksan said that as soon as they had smelled the sulfur, the village had met at nearby mosque to discuss what they would do in the event of the eruption.

""We know how difficult it will be to evacuate if we do not all gather in one spot. Therefore, we decided to gather at the mosque,"" he said.

With additional reporting from Suherdjoko in Magelang.

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