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Chinese New Year celebrated in clash-torn Indonesian city

Agence France Presse - February 7, 1997

Pontianak – The large Chinese community in the troubled Indonesian province of West Kalimantan celebrated the Lunar New Year on Friday in solemn mood.

Many of the 150,000 ethnic Chinese who make up around a third of the population of the provincial capital, Pontianak, took a lower profile because of recent clashes between indigenous Dayak people and migrant Madurese. Only sporadic firecrackers were heard as dawn rose.

"It is definitely a bit quieter this year. Many Chinese have left the city to celebrate abroad, and far fewer people have visited from out of town than usual," one of the city's Buddhist elders told AFP.

Troops and police still patrolled the streets Thursday night, including around temples where people were praying. However Pontianak was still doing its best to celebrate the Chinese new year with the city streets bustling on Thursday night and most houses owned by Chinese were open, with bright red lanterns hung.

"This is much busier than I have seen in over a week," a local resident said. The province has been hit by violent clashes between Dayaks and migrants from Madura, a small island off Java. Thousands of Dayaks and Madurese have sought shelter in military compounds following the unrest, the second outburst in a month in the province.

Military roadblocks still prevented vehicles from going to some areas northwest of Pontianak on Thursday. Anjungan, some 55 kilometres (35 miles) northwest, was deserted with armed troops on patrol. Since the second eruption of violence, sparked by an attack on a dormitory housing Dayaks last week, the authorities have tried to impose acurfew from 9:00 p.m. Security personnel carry out frequent identification checks on the streets after dark.

While the violence have not directly involved ethnic Chinese, residents said the Chinese community and some Christian churches have felt at threat. Clashing groups at times have sometimes smashed shops belonging to the Chinese, one resident said. "Many of my Chinese neighbors have left town for these holidays."

Another Catholic resident said that a number of churches have received anonymous phone calls threatening to burn Christan buildings. Most Dayaks are Christian, while Madurese are mainly Moslems.

A number of towns on Java have been hit by ethnic and religious unrest in recent months, with Chinese-owned buildings and non-Moslem buildings, including churches, often the target.

While the Chinese only make up over three percent of Indonesia's 200 million people, many observers believe the group controls over 80 percent of the nation's wealth.

West Kalimantan has one of the highest concentration of ethnic Chinese in Indonesia, making up about 11 percent of the population. A large number of Chinese migrated to Borneo in the 18th century to work in mining and have remained ever since. lis/tw