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Rights watchdog wants bigger peace effort

South China Morning Post - February 20, 1997

Joe Leahy, Jakarta – Further peace efforts are needed in West Kalimantan to avoid a repeat of ethnic clashes which have rocked the province in the past two months, a senior member of the National Commission on Human Rights warns.

Commission Secretary-General Baharuddin Lopa was commenting after a senior military officer sought to play down reports that the death toll in the clashes was as high as 300.

Mr Lopa said yesterday more peace-making efforts were needed between the warring parties - indigenous Dayak tribesmen and settlers from Madura Island near East Java - before the situation could be classified as secure.

Mr Lopa and other commission officials brokered peace talks between Dayak and Madurese community leaders in Pontianak on Tuesday.

"Just because there's been a plaque-signing ceremony in the capital, that does not mean the situation is over in the villages," Mr Lopa said yesterday.

The commission could not confirm how many died in the clashes, mostly in the Sanggau Ledo district about 100 kilometres north of Pontianak, until it had implemented a full inquiry, he said.

"But we cannot start a proper investigation until the situation settles down at the lower levels. We're still waiting for the reconciliation process to take effect in the outlying districts."

The official news agency, Antara, quoted the West Kalimantan police chief, Colonel Erwin Achmad, as saying 68 people had been arrested since the riots began in December. He said 13 of the suspects faced interrogation.

On Monday, Army chief General Raden Hartono alleged a number of "individuals" from East Java had gone to Pontianak with the intention of inflaming the conflict.

"These slanderers are being detained by the West Kalimantan police," Major-General Namuri Anum, commander of the Tanjungpura military region, said.

General Hartono rejected reports quoting one of his aides, Major-General Zacky Anwar Makarim, as saying 300 had died in the clashes.

"No, it's wrong. The death toll was not that high," General Hartono said.

General Anwar had quoted the figure while contradicting reports between 1,000 and 2,000 had died.

The 300 estimate was a significant departure from earlier military statements.

Sporadic ethnic and religious rioting has erupted in other parts of mainly Muslim Indonesia since October, especially on Java.