Tue, 06 Mar 2001

Mass burials in Sampit, as refugees flow

JAKARTA (JP): With thousands of refugees continuing to flow out of Sampit, Central Kalimantan, officials in Sampit began to dig up mass graves during the long weekend to give those who died a decent burial.

Some 150 bodies were buried in a mass grave on Sunday afternoon.

"We worked based on reports from locals on the location of bodies that have not yet been tended to. We are trying to bury them properly," Fachruddin, who heads the victims' search team in East Kotawaringin regency, said as quoted by Antara on Monday.

The search team was in Parebok village in Mentaya Hilir Selatan district and helped on Monday with tending to seven bodies from a total of 30 victims of violence which occurred near the Libasut Taqwa Islamic boarding school.

"The rioters did not destroy the mosque or other worship places as this is not about religion...it was just aimed at the Madurese," Fachruddin said.

He added that work would continue for a few more days as there are reports of bodies at other places awaiting proper burial.

The ethnic riot in Sampit and its surrounding area has claimed at least 357 lives and caused a mass exodus of migrant Madurese and other ethnic groups fearing the fury of the indigenous Dayaks.

Non-official estimates put the death toll at closer to 500.

The exodus continued throughout the weekend. More than 5,000 people boarded a passenger liner bound for Java, Sgt. Henrik Tortep, a police officer in a river port town near Sampit said.

"Some 100 security officers safeguarded the embarkation," Tortep remarked.

It is believed that some 22,000 people, mostly settlers or descendants of settlers from the island of Madura in East Java, have left Central Kalimantan since violence began more than two weeks ago.

But as many as 16,000 refugees may still be left stranded in camps and shelters around Sampit waiting for ships to take them away.

In Sampit on Monday, Madurese refugees held a mass prayer to mark the Islamic holy day of Idul Adha at the compound of the district chief's office under tight security.

Meanwhile Central Kalimantan Governor Asmawi Agani welcomed on Monday the planned visit of East Java Governor Imam Utomo to Banjarmasin, South Kalimantan, in a bid to start good faith talks between the locals and migrants.

In Jakarta, Coordinating Minister for Political, Social and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the government will wait for a 'green light' from the local government before moving the refugees back to Sampit.

"I think we need more time because we do not want to return them (the refugees) to Sampit while the situation there is still tense. I want things to be more peaceful in Central Kalimantan," Susilo said on Monday.

Susilo stressed the need for local and religious leaders to discuss the situation and find solutions to prevent such conflict from recurring, before the Madurese refugees return.

Earlier in Yogyakarta on Sunday, Susilo warned that force could be used by the government if violence does not abate.

"If we think it's necessary, we will announce a state of emergency in Sampit," he said. (44/edt/dja)