Skirmishes as armed gangs roam Indonesian town

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Armed gangs roamed through a town on Indonesia's Borneo island today, where more than 140 people have been slaughtered in fighting between rival ethnic groups.

Armed gangs roamed through a town on Indonesia's Borneo island today, where more than 140 people have been slaughtered in fighting between rival ethnic groups.

"There are small-scale skirmishes going on," said Police Comm Petrus Handoko.

Clashes between indigenous Dayaks and immigrants from other parts of Indonesia first erupted on Sunday in Sampit, about 480 miles north-east of Jakarta.

Many of the dead were decapitated. Gangs paraded severed heads around the town.

Hospital official Komaruddin Sukhemi said at least 142 bodies had been brought to local morgues. More corpses remained uncollected on the streets, he said.

Church worker Natalia, who like many Indonesians uses only one name, said gangs of Dayak men carrying daggers and machetes were burning empty houses belonging to settlers from the island of Madura.

"We are really afraid since there are not many police here," she said.

Police said people in the town were largely ignoring a curfew that has been in place for three nights. They said two joint police and military battalions were arriving to reinforce overwhelmed local security force.

Navy officials in Jakarta said two landing craft were due to arrive in the area to take on some of the 15,000 refugees from the conflict.

Frightened residents of Sampit have flooded the central Kalimantan provincial capital Palangkaraya some 130 miles away. Many were sheltering in police stations in the city.

Enmity between the Dayaks and the migrants, mainly from Madura island, has often erupted into fierce brawls in the region. The fighting is often triggered by land disputes.

Hundreds of people have died in the past few years in a series of clashes. At least 260 people were killed in 1999. Dozens also died in attacks in 1997.

Police have arrested 80 people in the past few days, including two local government official they accuse of inciting the violence.

Hundreds of homemade weapons, including machetes and spears, have been confiscated.

Over the past 40 years, hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Madurese, have resettled in Kalimantan - the Indonesian part of Borneo island. They were moved as part of a government transmigration program designed to relieve overcrowding in other areas.

Elsewhere in Indonesia, police said they found three bodies with gunshot wounds in Aceh province, where a 25-year separatist war has killed more than 6,000 people in the past decade.

Rebels also attacked an air force base with grenades and rockets on Thursday. No one was injured and damage was slight, military officials said.

Comments