Residents scrambling as governor vows to turn Jakarta red-light district green

Jakarta: There are still signs that just days ago Kalijodo was a flourishing red-light district.

A lacy bra is scattered among debris on the filthy floor of a deserted building. Pin-ups of a busty wench, leaning provocatively over a billiard cue, decorate an upstairs room being ripped apart for spare timber.

It was in tiny airless rooms like this that sex workers turned tricks for about 200,000 rupiah (approx $20) for half an hour.

Kalijodo (Soulmate River) has been one of Jakarta's most notorious vice dens since the Dutch colonial era. The precinct, home to more than 3000 people, was a mecca for prostitution, gambling and cheap beer.

But on February 8, four people were killed in a road accident. The driver, who was heavily intoxicated, had spent the night drinking at Kalijodo. It was the final straw for Jakarta governor Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, known as Ahok, who had long wanted to clean up the area.

The next day the Jakarta provincial government announced Kalijodo would be razed and turned into a park.

"I am speechless, I am angry, but what can I say? " says 48-year-old Nuriah, who has lived in Kalijodo since she was five. "We cannot go against the government. I have no choice, I just have to accept this."

Ten-year-old Kelvin is dwarfed by a mattress strapped to the back of his bike. His father explains they are moving to a nearby area. "My teacher told me today is exam day," says Kelvin, who is in year four.

Residents have been given until February 29 to dismantle their houses and leave the area. "If they don't want to tear apart their houses by themselves, we will do it," Ahok told reporters.

Authorities are bracing for violence after a police raid of Kalijodo on Saturday netted 400 arrows and machetes.

"Maybe the people will use them to fight us on February 29," Maskur, the head of the Pejagalan district, tells Fairfax Media.

More than 2500 personnel, including 100 officers with riot gear, will reportedly secure the area on eviction day.

But since Saturday, the situation has become more "conducive", Maskur says. Many people have registered for 400 low-cost apartments set aside by the government for Kalijodo residents with Jakarta residential identity cards.

Those without ID cards will be sent back to their home towns or offered vocational training to assist them in changing professions.

Maskur says the prostitutes - he estimates there were about 500 - have already returned to kampungs (villages) across Indonesia.

Selected residents will also be offered low-interest loans to start new businesses.

"We will assess their character and manner," the famously outspoken Ahok said. "That doesn't mean that if you are relocated, you will directly receive a loan. Do you think this is your father's money?"

Only 9.98 per cent of Jakarta's traffic-choked city is set aside for green space. The Jakarta administration is aiming for 30 per cent.

Ahok, who is seeking to be re-elected as governor next year, argues Kalijodo has long been set aside as a green zone and residents were violating regulations by occupying the land.

But many resident say they have land certificates and pay tax. Nuriah admits she does not have a land certificate but tells Fairfax Media she paid 400,000 rupiah ($40) tax a year into DKI, a state-owned bank.

Jakarta has a history of mass evictions. Last year the forced removal of squatters living in the flood-prone Kampung Pulo slums turned violent, with two police officers and three residents injured in the clashes.

"Clients should note that attempts to evict residents in other parts of the city have been met with fierce resistance," international security consultancy firm Hill and Associates warns.

The National Commission of Human Rights, KomnasHAM, says the government must compensate Kalijodo residents for the value of their land.

"Those who have occupied Kalijodo for decades with legal land title ownership and who pay tax should not simply be evicted and moved to the low-cost apartments," it says.

Commissioner Hafid Abbas urged authorities to at least postpone the eviction until children have completed their national examinations.

In 2014 the mayor of Surabaya, Indonesia's second-largest city, closed down the Dolly red light district.

Mr Hafid said the key to Surabaya mayor Tri Rismaharini's success had been dialogue with the people.

"Therefore, based on the good experience above, a dialogue should be carried out between the Governor of Jakarta and the people of Kalijodo," Mr Hafid said.

The story Residents scrambling as governor vows to turn Jakarta red-light district green first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.

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