APSN Banner

Tension high after ethnic unrest in Indonesian province

Agence France Presse - February 6, 1997

Pontianak – Tension was running high Thursday in a flashpoint district of this Indonesian provincial capital amid mounting fears of a fresh outbreak of ethnic violence.

Groups of indigenous Dayak people were seen Wednesday night patrolling the city's northern Siantan district where many of them live.

Security forces were conducting random checks of identity papers.

West Kalimantan province has been tense since early January following clashes between thousands of indigenous Dayak tribesmen and Moslem migrants from Madura, an island off East Java.

Witnesses said the military and police had set up roadblocks on the main roads leading out of the town, virtually isolating this city of at least 700,000 people on the island of Borneo.

Traffic was halted by a military roadblock in the town of Anjungan, 55 kilometres (34.1 mile) north of here, barring travel into a region where clashes have been reported in the past week. In Pontianak, there was one unconfirmed death and at least two people were reported wounded in two attacks on a Catholic dormitory and private homes which housed Dayak refugees.

Dayak refugees were being housed in two military buildings, one holding about 2,000 people and the other had 741. During the day Siantan's streets were bustling with activity, but were quickly deserted as night fell, while the city centre, on the other side of the Kapuas Kecil river that divides Pontianak, appeared normal.

Indonesian military and government leaders in Jakarta said the situation in West Kalimantan, including in Pontianak, was calm and "under control." Police helicopters were dropping flyers in the region north and northwest of here where recent clashes have been reported, the Merdeka daily said. In the flyers, police and military authorities called on people "not to fall prey to incitement," promised firm action against those violating the law and stressed that the province was "safe, secure and under control," the daily said.

On New Year's day, 5,000 ethnic Dayak tribesmen went on a rampage in Sanggau Ledo, some 96 kilometres (60 miles) northeast of Pontianak, attacking migrants from Madura. Five people died in the riots, sources have said, while officials said 21 people were missing.

Authorities in Pontianak and several other towns and sub-districts in West Kalimantan have since last weekend called on people not to leave their homes between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m.. But with the exception of northern Pontianak, the call has not been strictly enforced, residents have said.

"We are still worried, especially that now the road are closed and we cannot go anywhere," said a Dayak man among some dozen people squatting in front of a house in Anjungan. The rest of the town appeared deserted but for patrolling soldiers carrying automatic firearms.

The man said he had heard gun shots during the week as mobs of Dayak men from northwest of the town were trying to pass security cordons, but he said he had been too scared to see what was happening.

In Peniraman, a town about halfway between Anjungan and Pontianak with a large Madurese community, remnants of large rocks used to block roads by the Madurese could still be seen on the side of the road.

"We are still worried, there is no Lebaran for us this year," an elderly Madurese man said referring to the festivities greeting the end of the Moslem fasting month this weekend.

Another Madurese man said he had walked for three days fleeing his village through backroads "because it was so bad there." A Dayak elder in Siantan who asked not to be identified it was "the largest conflict" to erupt between the Madurese and the Dayak adding the situation remained "unpredictable."

He said the tensions were a "purely ethnic conflict." Residents of most Dayak homes have traditional weapons, such as spears, ready in their living room."Almost all of us here have weapons in our home. We are too scared and we have no choice," said the head of a Dayak family who also declined to be named.

In the small front yard of an elder's house, a ceramic plate containing a red piece of cloth and a glass half-filled with rice lay on the ground. "This is a sign that we are at war," volunteered one of the Dayaks. Indonesia, the world's largest Moslem-populated nation, has been plagued by a string of recent ethnic and religious unrests that have led to the deaths of 12 people since October.

The violence prompted Malaysia's timber-rich Sarawak state to close all border crossing posts with Kalimantan on Sunday. On Wednesday, Indonesia's Foreign Minister Ali Alatas said he hoped the border closure would only be temporary while Malaysia said it would wait to see what happened before re-opening the border.

"We are still monitoring the situation in Kalimantan. We will only open up the roads once the situation is declared safe by the Indonesian authorities," the National Security Council in Sarawak said. bur/cf