Headless human remains seen by The Independent, together with graphic pictures obtained from a local photographer, represent the first solid evidence of what has until now been little more than rumour: an ethnic war of scarcely imaginable savagery, fought according to ancient principles of black magic, between inhabitants of the world's fourth biggest nation.
The killings took place in the first two months of this year in the remote province of West Kalimantan, close to Indonesia's border with Malaysia, which shares the vast equatorial island of Borneo. Most of those who died were settlers from the island of Madura, east of the main Indonesian population centre, Java.
For decades, land disputes and cultural differences have caused simmering tension between the Madurese and the original inhabitants of Borneo, a race known as the Dayaks. At the very end of last year it exploded, after two Dayak men were stabbed at a pop concert, allegedly by Madurese youths. The authorities restored an uneasy peace, but when rumours began to spread of similar attacks a month later, thousands of Dayaks, urged on by tribal shamans, began a series of mob attacks on Madurese settlements.
The road between Pontianak and the town of Pahauman, two and a half hours' drive to the north-east, is still lined with hundreds of burned out houses formerly occupied by Madurese. In thick jungle near the town of Salatiga last week, The Independent was shown a few of the victims of these attacks: six skeletons, five of them in a single spot, all of them lacking skulls.
Photographs taken by a local man on 7 February show severed heads lying in ditches, and a headless, mutilated body by the side of the road in Pahauman. Witnesses describe seeing thousands of Dayaks wearing war paint, and apparently in a trance state, shooting Madurese with home made shotguns, cutting off their heads, drinking their blood and removing and eating their hearts.
"On 1 February a gang of Madurese burned five Dayak houses in the morning," said a teacher in the town of Salatiga, where some of the worst violence occurred. "I was watching from my bathroom window when about 1,000 Dayaks arrived in town. A lot of the Madurese had already run away, but about 50 stayed . . . Three of them got shot - Sinem, Haji Marsuli, and another man I didn't know well. The Dayaks took the bodies and they cut off their heads with swords. Then they cut open their backs and pulled out the hearts, and they ate the hearts and drank the blood."
A Javanese man returned that evening to find his home burned down and the headless bodies of six of his Madurese neighbours, including an 80- year old woman, lying on the road with their hearts ripped out. A foreign Catholic priest in another village described seeing his parishioners return carrying heads as trophies. Local Catholic priests in Dayak villages estimate that 200 Dayaks and 4,000 Madurese were killed in the fighting. The Institute of Dayakology Research and Development, a non-governmental organisation in the West Kalimantan capital of Pontianak, puts the numbers of dead at 1700. The government acknowledges fewer than 300 dead. An estimated 20,000 Madurese are still living in dormitories guarded by the military.Reuse content