Carnage and cannibalism in Borneo as ethnic conflict rages

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The Independent Online
WESTERN PARTS of Borneo were in a state of anarchy last night after Indonesian soldiers opened fire on headhunting Dayak warriors in a drastic escalation of the island's savage ethnic war.

At least five Dayaks were shot dead during a gun battle with police in the district of Semelantan, in the West Kalimantan province where thousands of tribesmen are gathering from across western Borneo in a human manhunt.

More than 200 people, including young babies, have been decapitated and cannibalised in the area, where Dayak leaders and the Indonesian military have lost control of the local population. Hundreds more are being hunted down and butchered at the rate of some 30 a day.

The scenes along the road between the town of Singkawang and the village of Montrado yesterday afternoon defied belief. Five severed heads were displayed at checkpoints along the way, including those of a teenage boy and a middle-aged couple. Young warriors, armed with guns and wooden spears and smeared with blood, walked along the road openly carrying the hearts and livers of their victims as women and children looked on.

A few miles away, a group of a dozen Dayaks were roasting and eating another body which lay dismembered on a wall. A young Dayak man boasted that he had taken part in four killings of Indonesian settlers from the island of Madura. "We caught one of them this afternoon," he said, "and we killed it and we ate it, because we hate the Madurese."

Local government officials in Singkawang estimate that up to 500 others have been killed, although an accurate count is impossible because of the nature of the killings. "Sometimes we find a leg and sometimes an arm, so it's difficult to keep count," said AR Simon, a Dayak who is administrative head of the Semelantan area. "We try to count the heads." Elias Ubek, Dayak chief of the village of Montrado, said that at least 70 Madurese had been killed and beheaded in his village alone. He said he had seen six or seven children with their heads cut off. "Some are shot first, some are stabbed to death," he said. "They don't care about women, children; they kill everyone, including babies. They chop their heads off and they eat them."

Mr Ubek was threatened with death by his own villagers after giving shelter to two families who had been tied up and were about to be killed by Dayak warriors. "The people trying to kill them had come from another district and they were so angry, I was almost killed myself. I am their leader and I cannot cool them down."

The Indonesian security forces have even less control of the situation. At about 4pm yesterday, Mr Ubek's eight refugees boarded a military convoy which was passing through the area attempting to save Madurese fugitives. At least 150 soldiers in a dozen trucks and two armoured cars were outnumbered by a mob of Dayak warriors who followed them down the jungle road.

Five miles down the road, the Dayaks attacked with hunting rifles, and the soldiers responded with a volley of gunfire. Witnesses described them taking level aim into the jungle with automatic rifles. At least five Dayaks were seen lying by the road dead or seriously wounded, before the convoy proceeded to Singkawang.

This nightmarish conflict began last month. More than 10,000 Madurese refugees had already fled villages along the coast, where the ethnic cleansing was instigated by mobs, mainly of ethnic Malays.

The mobilisation of the Dayaks of the interior raised the stakes drastically. Many of those arriving in Semelantan are veterans of a similar conflict two years ago, which left as many as 3,000 Madurese dead. The military stopped the Dayak advance outside West Kalimantan's regional capital, Pontianak, and some 200 Dayaks were killed when they tried to break through army lines.

Members of Borneo's three principal ethnic groups - Dayak, Malay, and Chinese - accuse the Madurese of fighting and theft. They demand that they leave the island.