Ethnic violence engulfs Indonesian Borneo

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The Independent Online

Thousands of people fled ethnic clashes on the Indonesian part of Borneo yesterday and police said the violence - which has claimed at least 143 lives - was getting worse.

Thousands of people fled ethnic clashes on the Indonesian part of Borneo yesterday and police said the violence - which has claimed at least 143 lives - was getting worse.

A navy landing craft and two transport ships were speeding to the river port at Sampit to pick up refugees from the fighting between native Dayak people and immigrants from Madura, officials said. The vessels, due last night, can accommodate 7,000 people.

The refugees, mostly Madurese and other non-native groups, were to be evacuated to the port of Surabaya on Java island, officials said. Other refugees were heading overland to other parts of the province.

In Sampit, the bodies of about 30 adults and children lay outside the hospital in a bloody heap. Some of the corpses were headless. Many houses blazed and trucks full of armed Dayaks patrolled the streets. Gangs armed with machetes and daggers have paraded the severed heads of Madurese victims.

Two joint police and military battalions were going in to reinforce overwhelmed local security forces in the town, about 800km (480 miles) northeast of Jakarta.

"The situation is getting worse," said Brigadier General Bambang Pranoto, the regional police chief. "The riots are spreading to other towns where there are still many Madurese."

Over the past 40 years, tens of thousands of people, mostly Madurese, have settled in Central Kalimantan province. The government program that brought them here was designed to relieve the overcrowding in other areas, but has sparked resentment among the Dayak natives.

The killings on Borneo, which is shared between Indonesia and Malaysia, began on Sunday. They are the latest in a series of bloody outbreaks in recent years. Hundreds have died in clashes, mostly sparked by land disputes between the Dayaks and the settlers.

The World Bank said yesterday that Indonesia could be headed for an economic collapse unless the government stops rampant violence and restores political stability.

"Regional unrest, and political and ethnic tensions threaten national unity," the bank said in a statement.

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