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Government inaction blamed for ethnic clashes

Jakarta Globe - January 28, 2013

Spiritual leaders say that religious-based clashes in Sumbawa, West Nusa Tenggara, have highlighted the inability of the government to address the root causes of conflicts that have plagued the country in recent years.

At least 3,000 people – most of them ethnic Balinese Hindus – fled their homes following mass fighting in Sumbawa Besar last Tuesday. Many buildings, vehicles and public facilities were damaged in the ensuing riots.

In a seminar held by the Center for Dialogue and Cooperation Among Civilizations (CDCC) on Sunday, leaders agreed that weak law enforcement was behind recurring clashes, saying those who perpetrated the violence often went unpunished.

Romo Benny Susetyo of the Indonesia Bishops Conference said that as well as being illegal, violence was contrary to the principles of justice and human rights.

"The government must have the nerve to enforce the law impartially. This is the only way we can hope that violence will not be repeated," he said.

The Sumbawa violence followed a misunderstanding over the death of a local woman on Jan. 19. The woman, Arniati, was said to have died after being raped by her police officer boyfriend, an ethnic Balinese.

An autopsy instead showed that she died in a traffic accident when riding on a motorcycle with her boyfriend, identified as Brig. Eka Gede Suwarjana.

The officer and the victim were riding along the Sumbawa-Kanar highway when the motorcycle slipped and crashed. The officer was injured in the accident and remains in hospital.

Instigated by the rumor, however, a mob of hundreds of people attacked targets associated with the predominantly Hindu ethnic Balinese community.

They vandalized 12 homes, two shops, a hotel and a traditional market, and torched several buildings and cars. They also threw rocks at Hindu temples.

At least 3,000 members of the ethnic Balinese community fled for Bali and Lombok. Police have since named 33 people as suspects in the case.

Din Syamsuddin, the chairman of Islamic group Muhammadiyah, agreed that the authorities failed to perform their duty to deter violence among people.

"We hope the government is serious in ending such conflicts so that they don't spread to other areas," he said. "Police must arrest the intellectual actors behind the clashes."