Jakarta – The Indonesian armed forces will not soften its tough stance in handling the recent unrest that has jolted the multi-ethnic country in the past few months, the Jakarta Post reported yesterday.
"The Abri approach remains the same. It is not being soft. What's important is that the approach is effective in ensuring stability, because stability is important," Defence and Security Minister Edi Sudradjat was quoted as saying.
Trouble began in West Kalimantan in late December in Sanggau Ledo, about 95 km north of the provincial capital Pontianak.
Native Dayak and migrants from Madura island off the main island of Java apparently fought over a girl.
The clashes lasted until early this month and the military had deployed about 3,000 troops in the province to contain unrest.
Mr Sudradjat, speaking after a parliamentary hearing, said the military had not taken a soft stance on troublemakers, and added that the violence in West Kalimantan was under investigation.
He said he was concerned about the unrest but was confident that the armed forces tactics would help the situation. The paper gave no further details.
On Monday, Media Indonesia newspaper quoted Major-General Zacky Anwar Makarim, the assistant to the army chief of staff for security affairs, as saying that about 300 people had been killed in the Kalimantan violence. But army chief General R. Hartono denied the figure.
"It's wrong. The death toll is not that high," he was quoted as saying by The Jakarta Post yesterday. He did not elaborate.
The military and local residents earlier said at least 12 people had died over the past six weeks.
The official Antara news agency said the leaders of 13 ethnic groups, including the Dayak and Madura migrants, signed a peace accord on Tuesday in Pontianak to end the violence.
It quoted the chief of the Tanjungpura Military Command, Major-General Namuri Anoem, as saying the military was still inves-tigating reports that the unrest was incited by outsiders from East Java, the province where the Madura island is located.
Pontianak Police Chief Erwin Achmad has said 68 people were arrested after the violence, and 13 of them might face trial.
Sporadic ethnic and religious rioting has struck other parts of mainly Muslim Indonesia since October, especially on the main island of Java.
At least 14 people died in those incidents.
Political analysts say the true death toll in West Kalimantan has been suppressed to stop the spread of the ethnic violence and to avoid international criticism.
Most Dayaks are Christian while the Madura migrants are Muslim. – AFP, Reuter.