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Dayak warriors sup from the red cup of war

Sydney Morning Herald - February 20, 1997

Louise Williams, Pontianak, West Kalimantan – Dayak tribal leaders have sent out the so-called "red cup" of war across Kalimantan and say a peace pact between the tribal "head-hunters" and migrant workers will not hold, according to a Dayak source.

A Government-sponsored peace ceremony held in the provincial capital, Pontianak, yesterday was marred by a new outbreak of violence 50 kilometres to the north. Reports reaching the city estimate at least 20 more people were killed overnight in the ongoing ethnic war.

The Indonesian armed forces have acknowledged an increase in the official death toll to 300 for the three months of fighting between the Dayaks - the indigenous tribes of Indonesian-controlled Kalimantan - and Muslim migrants from Madura Island in eastern Indonesia. However, Indonesia's National Human Rights Commission is investigating reports that large numbers of Madurans remain missing following attacks on their communities.

Local people say hundreds of Madurans have fled into the forest pursued by Dayak war parties armed with traditional weapons and practising the ceremonial severing of their victims' heads, cannibalism of the hearts and flesh and drinking of their blood.

The Dayak source said jungle couriers were passing the "red cup" of war from one tribal community to another and calling for support from across the four provinces of Kalimantan.

The cup is actually white but is filled with blood to symbolise war. Matches, symbolising light, a feather to help the warrior fly like a bird and a palm frond to symbolise shelter from the tropical rain are then dipped in the cup of blood.

"The reconciliation of the two ethnic groups is only at the top level, it never touches the people at the grassroots," the Dayak source said.

The peace ceremony in Pontianak yesterday brought together leaders of the Maduran and Dayak communities, who pledged to refer future disputes to the police.

However, most local people believe the ceremony can do little to end the horrifying wave of ethnic cleansing in the isolated villages and remote forests beyond the capital.

The source said the 1 million or so Dayaks had good solidarity and would continue to attack anyone who tried to block their path, including the armed forces. Dayaks are believed to be in control of the key inland highway where they have established roadblocks to search for Madurans.

Despite reinforcements of 3,000 troops, local people say the armed forces are outnumbered in many trouble spots and can do little more than attempt to protect pockets of Maduran refugees. The military yesterday ordered Western journalists in West Kalimantan to remain within the provincial capital.

A convoy of troops was sent north overnight to the most recent trouble spot of Sungaikunyit, on the north coast, where a large party of Dayaks had gathered from surrounding villages.

The Dayak source said the bloody campaign was motivated by the tradition of "payback". He said Maduran migrants had taken over the Dayaks' land, had better access to political power, were treated favourably by police in disputes and were rarely punished for past attacks on Dayaks.

The Indonesian Government does not recognise the concept of land rights for its indigenous people, and large areas of territory formerly controlled by isolated tribes have been converted into timber, rubber and palm oil estates, or allocated to foreign mining companies.

The Dayaks were traditionally shifting cultivators who lived hidden from the rest of the world in the towering rainforests of Kalimantan. They believe in the spirits of the land and had little contact with the outside world prior to the building of roads into the interior about 20 years ago.

Development policies have had a devastating impact on their subsistence farming methods but they have been given no alternative skills to compensate for displacement from their land.