APSN Banner

Dayaks return to headhunting in ethnic battle

Sydney Morning Herald - February 14, 1997

Louise Williams, Jakarta – Indonesian military sources have confirmed that indigenous Dayak tribespeople in the troubled province of West Kalimantan have reverted to head-hunting in their ethnic conflict with Muslim migrant settlers.

A military source said reports that the tribal Dayak people were cutting the heads off migrants from the eastern Indonesian island of Madura were true, and that about 100 people had already been killed in the conflict. He said the casualties included soldiers, but refused to say how many troops had died.

West Kalimantan, on the island of Borneo, is on red alert, with military reinforcements blockading all major roads and enforcing a ban on journalists travelling into the region since the fighting escalated over the past two weeks.

Rumours of massacres of Dayaks by troops sent in to quell the fighting have not been independently verified. The military announced yesterday that stern action would be taken against rioting Dayaks, but said troops had been ordered to shoot only in self-defence.

The National Human Rights Commission said a team had been sent to the provincial capital, Pontianak, to determine whether a taskforce was needed to monitor the violence.

Over the past two weeks, a number of sources have reported massacres of Dayaks who have attempted to run the military roadblocks, as well as attacks on Dayak organisations in Pontianak. A night curfew remains in force in the capital following rumours of a planned attack by immigrant Madura people on Dayak targets.

The human rights commission will seek to broker a truce between the warring parties, but military sources said tensions between the immigrant and native communities were so high negotiations would be difficult.

Military sources said the Dayak people had brought out the traditional "red cups", a symbol that they were now at war.

Two sources, contacted by telephone, said Dayak tribesmen had cut the heads off a number of Madurans near the northern coastal town of Singkawang, where the province-wide fighting began last Christmas Eve.

Many analysts have characterised the fighting as a sectarian battle pitting the mainly Christian Dayaks against the predominantly Muslim Madurans.

However, local people say the friction is mainly economic, and stems from the destruction of the Dayaks' traditional culture and lands by the logging of rainforests, and their lack of suitable skills or willingness to be integrated into the industrial economy.