Thu, 25 Mar 1999

Malaysia denies entry to stranded Madurese refugees

JAKARTA (JP): Over 400 embattled Madurese refugees escaping terror in West Kalimantan's Sambas regency have found themselves stranded at the port in the neighboring Malaysian state of Sarawak, reports said on Wednesday.

They were denied entry by Malaysian authorities at Sematan port in the Lundu district, but the mainly women and children refugees were well taken care of and given medical and food supplies, reports said.

A witness told Antara news agency that the refugees packed the MB Pertini boat to flee the recent carnage, heading for the provincial capital Pontianak, but changed direction when they were attacked part way through their journey by locals.

Malaysian police said there was no reason to accept the refugees, given that the Indonesian government accommodated all refugees in Pontianak.

Over the past nine days, Malays, later joined sporadically by Dayaks, have been hunting down Madurese. Locals cite long time resentment against the migrants.

Indonesian police liaison officer in Kuching, Maj. Herman Chaidir, was quoted by the Suara Pembaruan afternoon daily as saying the Indonesian authority in Malaysia has arranged the return of the refugees to Indonesia.

On Wednesday, a photographer from The Jakarta Post traveling from Singkawang to Sambas -- around 80 kilometers -- said the situation was calm and no armed Malay villagers could be seen on the streets.

But smoke was seen billowing from the Jawai subdistrict on the across the 800-meter wide Sambas river from Pemangkat.

Military trucks and tightly guarded civilian trucks were occasionally seen carrying Madurese refugees hidden under tarpaulins.

Tanjungpura Military chief Maj. Gen. Zainuri Hasyim told Antara in Singkawang -- 145 kilometers north of Pontianak -- that the situation in Sambas was slowly returning to normal.

"But the refugees remain our most serious priority," he said.

In Pontianak and surrounding areas, the number of refugees has swollen to nearly 15,000, with hundreds being treated in hospitals. A number of women have given birth in refugee centers.

Refugees so far are spread in 11 locations including some 3,000 at the haj dormitory, about 4,500 at the Pangsuma sports stadium and another 3,000 at the Sultan Syarif Abdurrahman stadium.

Authorities in Pontianak still maintain there have been 165 deaths. But local press reports said the bloodshed, which erupted last Tuesday, had claimed 184 lives by late Tuesday.

AFP reported from Singkawang on Wednesday that hundreds of fresh troops had been deployed to halt the violence.

The agency said military sources here confirmed reports that an estimated 4,000 Madurese were trapped in the Jawai subdistrict, with troops standing between them and encircling Malay and Dayak attackers.

Meanwhile, in East Java's capital of Surabaya, some 2,000 refugees from West Kalimantan arrived by ferry.

In Jakarta, Minister of Transmigration A.M. Hendropriyono said the transfer of people from the poor and overpopulated island of Madura would not resume until the tension eased.

"I understand that not all people from West Kalimantan disapprove of the arrival of Madurese," Hendropriyono was quoted by the Media Indonesia daily as saying on Tuesday.

He cited the earlier presentation of generators from people in West Kalimantan to Madura island, which is experiencing an electricity power cut.

The island has survived on generators since late last month when a ship's anchor severed an underwater power cable.

Agencies reported that soldiers killed four assailants on Tuesday after mobs in the village of Simpang Monterado tried to halt a convoy of trucks carrying about dozen Madurese. The fighters retreated under fire.

In 1997, Madurese clashes with the indigenous Dayaks left at least 300 dead.

Several leading politicians have called on President B.J. Habibie to visit the site of carnage and the thousands of displaced residents.

Until Thursday no such plans had been announced as the President prepared to leave to Aceh on Friday for a one-day visit. (aan)