Police and soldiers yesterday recovered dozens of bodies, at least one of which had been beheaded, after two days of fighting between rival ethnic groups in West Kalimantan province in the Indonesian part of Borneo island. Local police said that at least 62 people had been confirmed dead, and many more are believed to have been killed in remote villages where the security forces have lost control.
Local people said they feared a repeat of events two years ago when as many as 3,000 people were killed after indigenous Dayak people revolted against decades of discrimination by the Indonesian government. In early 1997, Dayak war parties burned villages inhabited by Muslim immigrants from the island of Madura, beheading and cannibalising many of their victims in a revival of ancient war rituals.
A Dayak man was reported to have been killed in a fight last Wednesday and, yesterday morning, Dayak leaders attending a congress of indigenous people in Jakarta returned home early to the regional capital, Pontianak, in the hope of forestalling further violence. "This could end up being worse than 1997," said one senior Dayak.
So far, however, almost all the reported violence has been between ethnic Malays, who have lived in the area for centuries, and more recent immigrants from Madura, a barren island close to Bali. The Madurese have moved to Borneo under the government's controversial programme of "transmigration", designed to exploit the natural resources of sparsely populated areas.
In Jakarta, the Social Affairs Minister, Justika Baharsyah, said 5,000 people had been made homeless after 1,000 houses were burned in the remote region around Sambas, 90 miles north of Pontianak.
Violence is seething in several other areas. In the province of Riau on Sumatra island, three were killed on Thursday during a fight between local people and employees of a plantation. In north Sumatra, four were injured when police fired on a crowd protesting against a pulp company. And killings continue on the island of Ambon where Christians and Muslims are locked in a cycle of violencewhich has led to the deaths of at least 200.Reuse content