Fri, 23 Feb 2001

Refugees flee Riau riot

BATAM ISLAND, Riau: Thousands on Thursday fled to Batam and mainland Riau following a riot which swept the town of Selat Panjang on Tebing Tinggi Island.

Antara further reported that some 1,200 had fled to Karimun Island.

"The refugees who came here have been welcomed at the Maha Vihara Duta Maitreya, a Buddhist monastery. It is spontaneous assistance," the manager of the Batam-based Association of Chinese Indonesians (PSMTI) Yohanes told The Jakarta Post on Wednesday.

Yohanes said the monastery, which is the biggest in Southeast Asia, can accommodate about 30,000 people. The refugees, however, preferred to stay with their own relatives there.

The riot erupted on Sunday with vigilante mobs torching shops and buildings which the rioters claimed were venues for gambling and prostitution.

The anarchy spread and a total of 115 shops, four schools and several discotheques were gutted.

The mobs took the law into their own hands after claiming that the police had done nothing to stop the gambling and prostitution.

Most of those who fled are believed to be ethnic Chinese shop owners and businessmen in Selat Panjang.(26)