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Mass violence mars Eid al-Fitr celebrations

Agence France Presse - January 21, 1999

Jakarta – At least five outbreaks of mob violence on Indonesia's Java island marred the two-day Moslem Eid al-Fitr holiday in addition to rioting in Maluku in which 20 died, officials and reports said Thursday.

Young people from neighbouring villages near Cirebon on the north coast of West Java brawled on Wednesday. Two people were injured, three houses were burned and 100 people sought refuge at a local mosque, police said. An officer at Cirebon police office told AFP Thursday troops remained on alert but the situation in Kepetakan and Bedulan was returning to normal. "Thankfully the situation has returned to normal but the problems among the feuding villagers still have to be resolved among themselves," the officer said.

Two incidents of violence were reported on the north coast of Central Java on Wednesday, the Antara news agency said. In Tegal the house of a former village head was destroyed following anger over the recent election of a village chief.

In Pemalang, 30 kilometers from Tegal, several public buildings were destroyed in a clash between two villages over rumors that a man from one village had been tortured to death. Some 200 residents of Sugihwaras, believing unfounded rumours that the man had died at the hands of neighbouring Widuri villagers, attacked Widuri and destroyed a village hall, a health care centre, a mosque and an elementary school.

The Kompas daily said violence also broke out at Banyumas in Central Java and at Bojonegoro in East Java. In Banyumas residents from two villages – Karangcengis and Purwaraja – fought after a man from Purwareja was nabbed by people in the other village on suspicion of theft. No serious injuries or damage were reported during the fight Wednesday.

In Bojonegoro hundreds of pedicab drivers Wednesday attacked a local police post in search of a military policeman who allegedly roughed up one of their colleagues. The mob burned a military police jeep and besieged the police post, blocking 500 metres of the main highway with hundreds of pedicabs, Kompas said.

It said the mob was appeased when the local military commander offered the pedicab drivers six million rupiah (about 750 dollars) in compensation for loss of revenues because of their protest, and promised to discipline the guilty officer.

Unrest and incidents of mass violence have been increasing since the economic crisis hit Indonesia in mid-1997. Respect for police and troops has dwindled following accusations of past mass abuses.