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Villagers flee deadly Papua tribal clash

Jakarta Globe - May 24, 2010

Timika – A violent tribal conflict in Timika, Papua, has prompted scores of women and children to flee their homes to the safety of a nearby military base, a witness said on Monday.

"We heard from a relative that people from the Dani and Paniai tribes were looking for Kei people," said Marci Tanlain, a resident of Kodok village in Timika. "That's why we've fled here, we're afraid of being attacked."

Marci said that she would only return to her village after the clash had subsided.

At the military airbase, the refugees – mostly women, children and the elderly – were accommodated in several rooms, said Lt. Col. I Wayan Suwatnyana, the base commander.

Anyone seeking protection at the base was welcomed, Suwatnyana said, adding that the situation in Timika was expected to soon return to normal.

He said that local religious and tribal leaders needed to meet as soon as possible to try to settle the problem between the tribes.

The clash itself was triggered by the death of Lamber Ondos Rumte, 30, a member of the Kei tribe, at the hands of four assailants on Sunday. Angry relatives and friends accused members of the Dani and Paniai tribes of the murder, and later attacked villagers from those tribes, injuring at least three.

The Dani and Paniai were incensed by the revenge attack. Dozens of Paniai, armed with machetes and bows and arrows, marched to Inauga village in Timika on Sunday night to find Kei tribesmen. The mob, however, was stopped by Mimika district police and the province's elite mobile brigade (Brimob) unit, which used a water cannon to disperse the crowd.

Mimika Police Chief Muhammad Sagi said that the city was beginning to return to normal, and four suspects had been detained for questioning over the death of Lamber.

The police chief said that the leaders from the three tribes involved in the conflict would be called on to enforce a truce and resolve the situation.

Last month, clashes between two groups in Kwamki Lama, another village in Mimika, were sparked after the death of a Kampung Karang Senang resident, who was found shot dead with some 20 arrows in his body. Three police officers were injured trying to end that conflict.

Tribal clashes often erupt in Mimika, where several large tribes live side by side. They are usually settled in a traditional manner, using compensation and communal feasts. (Antara, JG)