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Government negligence blamed for Lampung conflict

Jakarta Post - November 1, 2012

Oyos Saroso H.N. and Bagus BT Saragih, Bandar Lampung/Jakarta – The recent violent ethnic clash in Lampung, which has claimed the lives of at least 14 people, could have been prevented by the local administration, especially given the occurrence of similar incidents in the past, a noted sociologist has said.

"This nation has witnessed so many horizontal conflicts with many of them showing similarities. The government does not appear to learn from the past," sociologist Thamrin Amal Tomagola of the Jakarta-based University of Indonesia, said on Wednesday.

Two violent incidents involving people from Kalianda and Way Panji districts in South Lampung on Sunday and Monday left 14 people dead. Angry mobs also set at least 16 houses and one police car on fire.

The violence was triggered by an alleged assault committed by men from Way Panji, many of whom are of Balinese descent, on two young women from Kalianda district, who are mostly natives of Lampung.

Thamrin said the incident was simply a "trigger". Relationships between the migrant and native populations had been sour for years but the situation had not been addressed seriously by officials, he added.

"It's like a hotbed for violence. You only need a trivial incident as a trigger," Thamrin said. "Ironically, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is now preparing to receive an honor from the British Queen while his people are still mourning," he added.

South Lampung Regent Rycko Menoza acknowledged there had been an "enormous and very strong primordial spirit" within each ethnical group in that area. "However, the clash was ignited by the spreading of false information through social media and text messages," Rycko said.

Lampung has been a melting pot since the 1950s, when the area saw the arrival, through the government's transmigration program, of people from other provinces.

During the New Order era, transmigration was an ambitious project to resettle millions of people from the islands of Java, Bali and Lombok to other lesser populated islands in the archipelago. The program was aimed to reduce the population density of the three islands, where more than half of Indonesians lived.

Javanese and Balinese descendants living in Lampung have been involved in numerous conflicts with native Lampung residents even though they have lived there for years.

On Wednesday, community leaders from the conflicting groups reportedly agreed with the proposal to officiate a truce during a ceremony to be held within the next three days.

"The ceremony will be held in a place where thousands of people can gather to forgive each other," Deputy Lampung Governor Joko Umar Said said. "It will be attended by Bali Governor Made Mangku Pastika and Lampung Governor Sjachroedin ZP."

He added that the agreement had been reached after top figures from both the Lampung and Balinese communities met. The meeting, facilitated by the provincial administration, explored the roots of the conflict, Joko said.

Lampung Police chief Brig. Gen. Jodie Rooseto, who also attended the meeting, said he had also personally met with the top figures of both groups. "They were eager to [...] call a truce and find a resolution. Both parties regretted the violence," Jodie said after the closed-door meeting.

He also warned that once the agreement was signed both parties must obey it. The leaders had previously signed a peace pact after a clash between the communities broke out at Napal village in Sidomulyo district on Jan. 24.

January's clash was triggered by a dispute over the ownership of a parking lot and resulted in the burning down of 63 houses.