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Police shoot at farmers, dozens wounded

Reuters - December 28, 1998 (slightly abridged)

Medan – Indonesian police on Monday opened fire on hundreds of farmers who occupied a state plantation on the island of Sumatra and also clashed with villagers in a strife-hit region of Sulawesi to bring a mass brawl under control.

Witnesses said dozens were injured when police fired without warning while trying to evict farmers from a state-owned tobacco plantation near the North Sumatran capital of Medan, Indonesia's third-largest city. It was not clear whether live or rubber bullets were used.

The farmers said they had occupied the plantation bacause they had not received any compensation after the land had been taken from them by the state firm. "We still have not received any compensation. We will stay on this land because we still share the ownership," said Basiun Kain, one of the farmers.

In the town of Poso on the eastern island of Sulawesi, police clashed with a crowd of thousands who had ransacked and torched dozens of buildings during a brawl between rival villages.

"A mob of around 2,000 people gathered in the town's centre, then burned down people's houses located on the town's main road during a brawl," Poso's officer on duty, Seargant Yahya, told Reuters by telephone. "We tried to disperse them but some of them retaliated by hurling stones and attacking the police," Yahya said.

A hospital nurse said at least four people suffered gunshot wounds during the fray but Yahya said the police did not fire any shots in dispersing the crowd. He said it was not yet known how many people had been injured.

Thousands of people ran amok in the town last week after allegations a drunk Christian had stabbed a Moslem on Christmas Eve. But Yahya said Monday's violence was not sparked by religious conflict and no churches or mosques had been damaged.