Sat, 27 Mar 1999

Rights body to visit Sambas to get full picture on strife

JAKARTA (JP): Representatives of the National Commission on Human Rights will visit Sambas regency on Tuesday for a close-up look at the devastation from ethnic strife.

Antara reported on Friday the plan was revealed in a meeting with the Association of Madurese Youths (Higemura).

Members Bambang W. Soeharto and M. Salim will visit the area.

Association members urged the commission to demand the government effect reconciliation in Sambas. Nearly 200 people, many of them Madurese migrants, have been killed in the unrest.

"The commission has been rather slow in handling the Sambas case. The conflict in Sambas has been going on for a long time now, yet the commission will only visit it on March 30," the association's coordinator, Muchlis Ali, said after a meeting with commission member Benyamin Mangkoedilaga.

Benyamin denied the commission was slow in responding to the troubles, but noted problems in communication with local community leaders. "Maybe they do not like our presence there," he said.

He added the commission was long involved in trying to settle conflicts in Sambas, including sponsoring agreements between the groups.

"Based on our data, conflicts in West Kalimantan emerged in 1968 and agreements have been signed since then. However, the agreements were never promoted down to the grassroots."

Residents have complained only elite members of the community were involved in the peace pacts.

Benyamin said commission members visiting Sambas would also present aid from the United Nations Development Program.

In Jakarta, West Kalimantan governor Aspar Aswin hinted at a possible removal of the Madurese from the province.

"The government is currently debating the possibility of transmigrating them (Madurese) out of the province and is discussing the issue with people's representatives," he was quoting as saying by Reuters on the sidelines of a meeting with the House of Representatives.

"In the current emotional situation, it is difficult for them to return to their homes. Due to that, our first step is to cool down the situation."

Local Malays, Dayaks, Bugis and Chinese on Thursday told Armed Forces Commmander/Minister of Defense and Security Gen. Wiranto they could no longer live with the Madurese. They blamed "incompatible" cultures.

A sociologist told The Jakarta Post on Friday from Pontianak that he agreed with the possible plan to evacuate Madurese, but said it might be more feasible to remove them from the regency than the province. Sambas is a predominantly Malay and Dayak regency.

"It's better than to let them get murdered," said Syarif Ibrahim Alqadrie of Tanjungpura University. He has studied cultural differences in West Kalimantan.

He also urged the Madurese to reflect on the strife because he believed they failed to adapt to local customs.

Alqadrie also said resentment developed when Madurese usurped locals in the economy. Madurese, he said, were considered willing to work hard for low wages. They slowly came to dominate jobs, land ownership and a large part of the economy.

But locals claimed the migrants resorted to violence to settle disputes, jarring with their distaste for confrontation.

Nearly 20,000 refugees have been evacuated from the regency to Pontianak, the provincial capital about 200 kilometers to the north which remains largely unaffected. In Sambas, about 9,000 refugees are waiting to be evacuated.

The number of refugees is almost half of the 60,000 Madurese in Sambas, which has a population of 800,000.

Sejangkung subdistrict head M. Sadjri Z. told the Post in Sambas he urged all Madurese in the subdistrict to leave their villages, but the latter insisted on staying.

"Usually they'll move only after being attacked," he said.

Alqadrie suggested a long-term solution for every new Madurese resettlement in West Kalimantan be accompanied by a Muslim cleric from Madura to help ensure better relations with local. Local observers have also cited low educational backgrounds as one problem in inter-ethnic relations.

West Kalimantan's population of four million is 41 percent Dayak, 39 percent Malay, 14 percent ethnic Chinese and 2 percent Madurese, with several other ethnic groups making up the remainder.

In the short term, Alqadrie said, it would also be sensible to deploy security personnel who were compatible with locals.

If security personnel were mainly from Java, he said, they would be perceived as similar to the Madurese.

At least 4,000 security personnel are assigned to help quell the unrest and in the evacuation of tens of thousands of refugees to Pontianak.

In a traffic accident on Friday in Saeng Raubi village, Sambas subdistrict, a member of the police's Mobile Brigade was killed and 11 others seriously injured when their truck overturned. The victim was identified as First Sgt. Sudarminto. (leo/aan)