Mon, 22 Mar 1999

Death toll in Sambas continues to rise

JAKARTA (JP): The death toll from weeklong clashes between Madurese settlers and local Malays and Dayaks in West Kalimantan's Sambas regency increased to more than 90 on Sunday as more bodies were found, reports said.

As of Sunday, the Suara Pembaruan evening daily put the death toll at 96, while Reuters quoted police official estimates of 70.

Residents in the regency capital of Singkawang and provincial capital city of Pontianak told The Jakarta Post by phone the situation was not improving, despite security personnel's claims of a return to calm.

"It's really scary, although Singkawang is still safe," said Lim Jan Liong, a Chinese-Indonesian.

"Today I saw 10 truckloads of Madurese driving to Pontianak."

A resident working as an engineer on a bridge development project, also a Chinese-Indonesian, said he had just returned to Pontianak from Sekurak in the Jawai subdistrict.

The small town is located some 250 kilometers north of Pontianak.

"(It is) horrible! They (the mobs of Malays and Dayaks) stopped our truck and inspected us with their machetes around our necks... but they were only looking for Madurese," said the man, who identified himself as Boni.

"There were 18 of us in the truck, mostly Javanese."

Nobody was harmed in the incident, he said.

Boni said almost all the Madurese-owned houses he passed were razed.

He said the carnage was different from the outbreak of violence in 1997 when the Dayaks would reportedly go into trances to "smell" whether a person was Madurese.

It is now not as clear-cut as in 1997, as the war is waged mainly by the Malays.

Reuters reported on Sunday from Singkawang that there were unconfirmed reports of mobs setting fire to a body in the town of Sambas.

More than 800 machete-wielding Malays and Dayaks burned dozens of Madurese homes in the village of Sukarame in Sambas. The Madurese fled before the mobs arrived.

The unrest broke out last Monday as indigenous Malays and Dayaks clashed with Madurese settlers.


The bloodshed was sparked by a dispute over a bus fare, but local West Kalimantan leaders said it was fueled by long-standing rivalries among the ethnic groups.

Sambas regency predominantly consists of Dayaks, Malays and Chinese-Indonesians with the Madurese being the minority ethnic group along with the Bugis, Minangkabau and others.

"The situation is very tense. Houses are being torched in villages on the edge of the city... I can see the smoke from my office," a resident of Singkawang said.

He said people were worried the ethnic clashes, until now largely confined to villages and the city's outskirts, would spread to the city center.

Meanwhile in Jakarta on Saturday, chairwoman of the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle Megawati Soekarnoputri challenged President B.J. Habibie to visit riot-torn Sambas and Maluku capital of Ambon.

"The people need a strong government and popular leadership to help defuse the crisis.

"The escalating tension in Sambas and the recent clashes in Ambon are linked to inaccurate information reaching the central government, leading to security personnel's inability to quell them quickly," Megawati said.

At least 200 people have died in full-scale riots in Ambon involving Christians and Muslims.

In Sambas, the Malays and Madurese are predominantly Muslim, while the Dayaks are mainly Christians.

Separately, National Mandate Party chairman Amien Rais said the government should make concerted efforts to quell the riots.

"The riots in Sambas must be stopped to prevent them from spreading to other areas," Amien said, after launching his book on corruption at the office of the Muhammadiyah Muslim organization in Central Jakarta on Saturday. (edt/rms/aan)