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HRW World Report 2001: Indonesia FREE    Join the HRW Mailing List 
Indonesia: The Violence in Central Kalimantan (Borneo)
A Human Rights Watch Press Backgrounder
(New York, February 28, 2001) The violence in Sampit, Central Kalimantan, started on the night of February 17-18 when a Dayak house was burned down. Rumor spread that an ethnic Madurese was responsible, and immediately, a band of Dayaks went into a Madurese neighborhood and began burning houses. In the ensuing violence, a Dayak and a Madurese were killed. This sent the clash to a new level, and in a matter of days, the violence had spread to Kualakayan, a subdistrict 110 km north of Sampit, and to Palangkaraya, the provincial capital of Central Kalimantan, some 220 km away.


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Indonesia: Transition and Regional Conflict
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Dayak is a generic name given to many different linguistically-related groups in Borneo. The Madurese are migrants to the region from the small island of Madura, off the east coast of Java. Over the last several decades, the Madurese have come to control the transportation and market sectors of the economy in Central and West Kalimantan. Kalimantan is the name for Indonesian Borneo.

The violence is reported to have been linked to an effort to restructure the office of bupati, or district chief, in the district of Kotawaringin Timur, central Kalimantan. Two local officials, who apparently believed they were going to lose their jobs in the restructuring, reportedly paid Rp.20 million to two "coordinators" to start the violence in Sampit, the largest timber port in Indonesia. One official was the head of local forestry unit (Kepala Resort Pemangku Hutan or KRPH) for the Tumbang Manjul area; the other was a staff member of the local Bappeda or regional planning office in the district, according to local police quoted in the Banjarmasin Post, a local newspaper. ("Dua Pejabat Kotim Diburu," February 20, 2001.)

In the restructuring, according to the bupati, Wahyudi K. Anwar, several departments would be joined together and only one person could be head. But he said no one would lose his job; rather, those who could not be retained as heads of department would still rise to the next rank in the civil service.

This is not the first time that a struggle over local posts at the district level has led to major violence. One factor in the outbreak of communal violence in Poso, Sulawesi, in May 2000 that left close to 300 dead was the competition between two men of different faiths to be bupati.

But there was a more immediate source of tension in the Sampit area. In the same district that was facing restructuring of the local administration, Kotawaringin Timur, there was an outbreak of violence between ethnic Dayak and Madurese in mid-December 2000. It centered on the village of Kareng Pangi, subdistrict Katingan Hilir, some 200 kilometers from Sampit. In that instance, the violence arose after a dispute about a gambling locale. One local source told Human Rights Watch on Monday that it started as "purely criminal," but after two Dayaks were killed, it erupted into a full-scale attack on the Madurese community. In August 2000, a similar clash had taken place in the neighboring district of Kotawaringin Barat, leaving several dead.

In the Sampit outbreak, the death toll from February 18 through February 26 was well over 200, and estimates are ranging as high as 600. (The local government said on Monday the main hospital in Sampit had recorded 210 deaths, but many of the people killed were never brought to the hospital.) The number of Madurese displaced from their homes was estimated at 24,000. By Tuesday, there were reports of at least three Madurese killed in Palangkaraya, many Madurese houses had been burned down, and thousands of Madurese were using every available form of transportation to leave because of rumors of a Dayak attack. The government sent ships to rescue many of the displaced in Sampit, and both they and Madurese from elsewhere were streaming into the East Javanese city of Surabaya.

As of Sunday night, five battalions of Indonesian army troops had been sent to the area, as the police seemed totally unable to control the violence. According to local press reports today, the bodies of 118 Madurese were found in the subdistrict of Parenggean, apparently killed by Dayaks as they tried to get to the city center in order to be evacuated by security forces.

Outbreaks between Dayak and Madurese have been common in recent years, particularly in West Kalimantan, but before December 1996 most were relatively quickly resolved with death tolls rising to twenty or thirty. The December 1996-January 1997 violence in West Kalimantan resulted in at least 600 deaths, according to Human Rights Watch's research; many estimates were higher. There were allegations then of provocation, but there was no hard evidence.

The Dayak have complained that Madurese have systematically taken their land and that Madurese culture is antithetical to their own. In Sampit on Monday, a local Dayak leader, Abdul Hadi Bondo, cited the way that Madurese had poured into central Kalimantan in recent decades to work on land granted by the government for commercial forestry, often to cronies of former President Soeharto and often on ancestral land of the Dayaks. He said that the accumulation of grievances of Dayaks against the Madurese, and the Dayaks' feeling that the Madurese presence had resulted in their own marginalization, made it difficult to see how the two groups could reconcile their differences. He said the migrants were making billions of dollars off the timber industry and other initiatives and polluting the river waters used by the Dayak.

Human Rights Watch's concerns:

Virtually every community across Indonesia with communal or ethnic differences is potentially a flashpoint now as subdistrict, district, and provincial boundaries are redrawn or contested, decentralization proceeds, and local competition over resources intensifies. There should probably be a complete moratorium on any administrative boundary changes or local administration restructuring until a credible law and order presence is in place and the situation in Jakarta becomes more stable.

If the allegations about the two provocateurs are true, they must be swiftly and fairly tried, as must the organizers of the Dayak-led violence.

The Indonesian government must take all possible steps to protect the Madurese and put no obstacles in the way of international assistance to them.

Every effort must be made to ensure the fair and accurate reporting of the situation over the broadcast media takes place, so that false rumors can be quickly squelched.

A full investigation of the failure of the police to make an effort to stop the violence should be undertaken by the National Human Rights Commission.

The underlying grievances of the Dayak population over land and lack of political and economic opportunity must in the long-term be addressed.

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