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Church, temple torched as Muslim youths riot

HKS - June 15, 1997

Jakarta – Hundreds of people rampaged through a conservative Muslim-dominated town on the East Javan island of Madura, torching shops and a cinema as well as a church and a Buddhist temple.

"I do not know the reason behind it, but hundreds of people disrupted a ceremony at the central square of Bangkalan on Saturday night," an official said.

However, a prominent local Muslim political figure speculated that anger over alleged fraud in the recent elections _ and apparent disregard by non-Muslims _ had sparked the violence.

"There is still concern among the population over widespread violations and fraud during the elections, but officials are just having fun and being merry . . . they (the Muslim people) just felt insulted," said Fuad Amin, the head of the local chapter of the Muslim-led United Development Party (PPP.)

A group of people began by attacking officials attending a thanksgiving ceremony for a town cleanliness award won by Bangkalan.

A larger mob formed after the clashes and set fire to a nearby cinema and the Buddhist temple, and at least two cars as well as pelting a shop in a nearby shopping street, the official said.

"But order and security was re-established about 11 pm and the town's situation is returning to normal," the official added.

Three truckloads of soldiers and two armoured vehicles had been sent to the town, the daily Kompas said.

A church source said the mob burnt at least three shops, the Tri Dharma temple in the Chinatown of Bangkalan, and a Pentecostal church, and pelted the glass front of the local post office.

The Bangkalan PPP has accused officials of poll frauds during the 29 May general elections and has refused to sign and endorse the official elections results.

Mr Amin also said religious leaders and the government had agreed three years ago to hold popular folk music concerts outside the town in a stadium, but this agreement was ignored.

Madura is a stronghold of conservative Islam.

"I did not see it myself but people have been saying that one of the adjutants to the head of the district was stabbed during the clash at the square," the church source said.

Kompas said at least one government official had been injured by a machete during the scuffle with the rioters during the ceremony.

The incident started after officials tried to shoo away youths, who had climbed on a podium where a popular Dangdut folk music group was performing, the church source said.

Second Sergeant Suwaji of the Bangkalan police confirmed mob violence had taken place late on Saturday, that one shop was attacked and "for the moment, it seems like the (Buddhist) temple was set on fire." - Agencies