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1,200 go missing in ethnic warfare

Sydney Morning Herald - March 5, 1997

Louise Williams, Jakarta – Indonesia is facing a "crisis of national unity", with up to 1,200 people missing following three months of ethnic fighting in West Kalimantan, according to a recent fact-finding mission.

The Republika daily yesterday released the results of the investigation by the Indonesian Youth Forum, which documented almost 500 homes destroyed along one 70-kilometre stretch of highway north of the provincial capital of Pontianak. The group said about 1,200 people were still missing from the scene of the worst fighting between indigenous Dayak tribes and Muslim migrant workers from the eastern Indonesian island of Madura.

A new peace ceremony was held yesterday between Maduran and Dayak leaders following another clash over the weekend which left up to 17 people dead. However, many local community leaders believe the conflict will continue, particularly in remote areas with few soldiers to protect the Maduran migrants.

The Indonesian Government has said that the conflict is over and has imposed restrictions on journalists travelling in the province and on publication of details of fighting in the local press in an attempt to prevent violence in other regions where different ethnic and religious groups live side by side.

Military sources put the death toll at between 200 and 300, with an unknown number missing.

The conflict was originally sparked by a local dispute but quickly spread across the province, with tribal Dayak leaders vowing to expel all Madurans from their lands. The Dayaks have resorted to head-hunting ceremonies in their campaign to destroy Maduran communities and witnesses have reported cannibalism and the ritual drinking of blood.

"We are stressing that these people are missing," the forum's spokesman, Mr Leopold Sudaryono, said. "It is very difficult to say whether they were killed or whether they ran away.

"But the situation is very frightening. There is a crisis of national unity in Indonesia. We concluded that law enforcement is not functioning effectively in West Kalimantan because this conflict began with a simple criminal case but led to an ethnic war."

The Dayaks first rioted over the failure of local police to prosecute a Maduran man accused of raping a Dayak woman. The Dayak people later killed the Maduran man, sparking retaliatory attacks which, in turn, sparked the province-wide conflict. The conflict has exposed the deep animosity between the indigenous Dayaks and the Madurans, who were first brought to Kalimantan to build roads to open up the dense tropical rainforests which the Dayaks consider sacred.

The forum also concluded that the people of West Kalimantan have more faith in adat, their own traditional tribal laws, than in the national police and justice system. The Dayaks have complained that migrant workers receive preferential treatment by local officials and are rarely prosecuted for breaking the law. The conflict is being waged using traditional rules: a life for a life. An offence against an individual is an offence against the entire tribe.

Witnesses in Pontianak have reported hundreds of Madurans leaving the province by boat as well as refugees still holed up in the dense tropical jungles after fleeing attacks on their homes.

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