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Factory workers riot as new ethnic violence feared

South China Morning Post - February 1, 1997

Joe Leahy in Jakarta – Fear surged through the mainly Chinese-Christian community of West Java province yesterday after a riot at a textile factory.

In the second outbreak of unrest in the province in two days, a dispute over wages turned violent at the Indonesian-owned factory in Rencaekek, about 20 kilometres from Bandung, the provincial capital.

And troops were sent into central Bandung, 200 km southeast of Jakarta, to impose order after scores of roadside hawkers stoned city officials trying to regulate traders, local sources said.

Bandung residents said the city of three million people had been tense since Thursday when leaflets were circulated with threats to burn the property of ethnic Chinese and Christians.

The source said most Catholic schools and many shops were closed yesterday.

A clergyman at the Pantekosta Church in Buah Batu, Bandung, had said earlier that people were concerned the violence that engulfed Rengasdengklok on Thursday might spread to the city.

Hundreds of Muslims had rampaged through churches, temples and Chinese-owned businesses in Rengasdenklok, 50 km northeast of the capital, but no casualties were reported.

Yesterday, Rengasdengklok remained tense with hundreds of troops patrolling the streets.

In Rencaekek, Effendi Saman, a spokesman with the Nusantara Legal Aid Institute, said late yesterday: "There are a lot of troops guarding the centre of town. There's no rioting but most ethnic Chinese shops have closed."

A spokesman for Kahatex, the group that owns the strife-hit factory, said stone-throwing workers burned one car and damaged more than 10 others.

The workers also attacked the factory's administration offices.

"It started in the morning and only lasted a short time. The local chief of police arrived and held talks with the workers," the spokesman said.

Police said the riot in Rencaekek began after a dispute over a traditional annual bonus.

In Indonesia, workers commonly receive a month's extra pay to mark Lebaran, the end of the Islamic fasting month.

"It's an internal matter of the factory. No one was arrested," a police officer said.

"The incident started because the workers were not satisfied with the Lebaran bonus. Everybody has gone home now."

The Kahatex official said the factory employed about 10,000 workers producing garments for foreign markets.Meanwhile, military chief General Feisal Tanjung threatened tougher measures to prevent any further violence. "If people are still causing unrest, ABRI [the Indonesian armed forces] will act against them more firmly."

He said the measures would be in the form of "serious actions", but he did not elaborate.