Dayaks Wage Campaign of Ethnic Cleansing in Indonesia's Kalimantan
Thousands of Madurese Muslims are seeking refuge from the town of Kalimantan in Borneo this week after witnessing several days of extreme ethnic violence.
Many of these Madurese Muslims are being repatriated from Kalimantan to Java and Madura, possibly creating more instability.
The official death rose to 270 Sunday, as sword-yielding Dayak mobs continued to wage their violent campaign of ethnic cleansing.
Foreign journalists told AFP they saw beheaded corpses on the road and homes looted and burned. The state Antara news agency also reported seeing headless, decomposed bodies scattered in many corners of Sampit. Citing its own sources and observations, Antara said the death toll could reach 400.
At least 10,000 frantic refugees, hungry and traumatized by a week of beheadings by marauding Dayak tribesmen, were still awaiting evacuation, Sampit administration chief Mohamed Wahyudi said
As the violence spread, the first official delegation from Jakarta to visit Sampit -- headed by chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono and armed forces Admiral Widodo Adisucipto -- flew in by helicopter.
Yudhoyono called it a "human tragedy."
Qamaruddin Sukhami, a doctor at the general hospital in Sampit, told AFP that 60 of 175 bodies piled in the grounds and the morgue of the Murjani hospital were due to be buried in a mass grave later in the afternoon.
Police were patrolling the streets Sunday, for the first time seizing arms from Dayak gangs.
A local priest said the Dayaks were determined to drive the Madurese out.
"I travelled around the city yesterday and they told me they would not go home until all Madurese have left," Father Willy Bald Kfaoffer of the Saint Yohannes Don Bosco church told AFP.
This was only one of the many clashes between the Muslims and Dayaks who a long history of ethnic conflict. The Dayaks, the indigeneous residents of Kalimantan, also have a long history of being headhunters.
In December at least four people died in fighting between Dayaks and settlers from Madura Island in Central Kalimantan, while 11 people were killed in the West Kalimantan capital of Pontianak in similar clashes in October.
Violent attacks on Madurese by Malays, backed by Dayak tribesmen, in West Kalimantan in 1999, left some 3,000 people dead and tens of thousands of migrants displaced.
In Malaysia Sunday a top security official said police there were ready to turn back anyone trying to escape ethnic bloodshed in Kalimantan.
"We have obtained information from Indonesian authorities that thousands of Indonesians are waiting for the right time to enter Malaysia," Muhamad Muda, marine police chief told AFP. In Cairo, Indonesian president Abdurrahman signalled that he had asked the country's feared special forces to intervene.
"There is a conflict ... that requires Indonesian special forces to be sent," Wahid. who is attending an Islamic summit, was quoted as saying by Egypt's MENA news agency.
"Some people are asking why we are sending special forces to the region, and the answer is that there is an urgent need for us to do that," he said.
Foreign observers are blaming the violence on the migration policies Indonesia practiced under the Suharto regime, which moved ethnic groups from over-crowded islands to less populated ones. The Madurese migrated to Kalimantan over the past 30 years under Suharto's resettlement program and were given incentives to accept relocation in Kalimantan in a bid to populate Borneo with a larger Muslim population.
Meanwhile, the Indonesian authorities insist there is no evidence of religious hatred in these latest massacres. They say the fact that the Malay-Muslims have joined forces with the Dayaks in Sampit ruled out the idea of a religious conflict.
Many among the Dayaks have converted to Christianity in the course of the last 50 years and have lived peacefully with Malays and Chinese in the territory.
The transmigration program began in the 1930's and the government granted the Madurese deforestation rights in order to clear lands for palm oil cultivation.
This conflicted with local Dayak tribe's traditional way of life, and destroyed a large portion of the rain forests. The Dayak's resented the taking over of what they consider their land, given away almost freely by the Suharto regime to the Madurese and other settlers.
The same transmigration policy was at the root of the conflict that pitted the Indonesian government against the East Timorese. The East Timorese resented the fact that Muslims from Java and other parts of Indonesia were given resources the indigenous people did not get from the central government.
Citizens from the Malay and Dayak communities accuse the Madurese of being troublemakers and have united and armed themselves to push the incomers out. They say the Madurese, known for being fierce fighters in the past, were behaving as the rulers of the territory. Even the Chinese population, often the target of ethnic hatred elsewhere in Indonesia, have joined their neighbors in attacking the Madurese.
The Madurese, since their implantation in West Kalimantan, have grown as a challenge to the Chinese who once dominated various industries. The Dayaks also resent many Madurese for having better jobs.
Behind the ethnic conflict, other observers in Jakarta see a growing external influence in certain parts of Indonesia. They say enemies of the Republic of Indonesia, namely the United States and Australia, are currently working on ways to create smaller independent republics around the Java Island.
Defense Minister Mahfud has said areas like Kalimantan, Maluku, East Timor and Irian Jaya have been targeted by the "enemies of Indonesia".
Mahmood Al Fatah is an Asian based writer with 20 years experience reporting on African and Asian affairs for the BBC and other news organizations. AFP contributed to this report.
Topics: Conflicts And War, Indonesia