Letter: Indonesian horrors

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The Independent Culture
Sir: The murders and mutilations Richard Lloyd Parry reports in West Kalimantan ("Apocalypse now". 25 March) are symptomatic of the systematic oppression of indigenous, tribal communities by the Indonesian state. Young Dayaks - dispossessed and disenfranchised in their own land - have taken the law into their own hands with horrific results.

The "combination of economic distress and the break down of law and order" prevailing in Indonesia to which Lloyd Parry briefly refers have a deeper cause: the 32 years of Suharto's military dictatorship which marginalised all the indigenous peoples of the archipelago. The Dayaks, Malays and Madurese of West Kalimantan are just a few of the victims of a government "development" policy which handed over control of Indonesia's immense natural wealth to a small elite of the Suharto family, its business associates, the military and foreign companies.

The transmigration programme - backed directly by the World Bank in the 1970s and 80s - resettled 1,600,000 families, mainly from Java, Bali and Madura, to the outer islands. Hundreds of thousands of "unofficial settlers" followed in their wake. The ancestral forests of many indigenous peoples were cleared to make way for the settlers. The Indonesian government admits to destroying over 1 million hectares of tropical rainforest for transmigration; the real figure is many times higher. Most of the forest and productive agricultural land in West Kalimantan has been parcelled out as concessions to logging and plantation companies.

No lessons have been learnt from the bloody conflict which left dozens dead and tens of thousands homeless in West Kalimantan in early 1997 or from the forest fires which devastated 5 million hectares of land in 1997 and a further 500,000 hectares in 1998. Since the fall of Suharto last May, the Habibie government has continued in his footsteps. Aided and abetted by the IMF and the World Bank, its answer to Indonesia's economic crisis is the exploitation of the country's natural resources to increase exports. The expansion of the oil palm industry and timber exports is a key element in this. Transmigration (and international support for it) has continued

FRANCES CARR

Down to Earth

London SE15

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