Mon, 30 Oct 2000

Security officers recover 11 bodies in Pontianak

PONTIANAK, West Kalimantan (JP): Security personnel have recovered 11 bodies as calm gradually returns here following days of communal clashes.

Chief of Tanjungpura Military Command overseeing Kalimantan Maj. Gen. Djoko Besariman confirmed the findings but was uncertain whether the bodies were victims of the latest interethnic violence to rock the province in three years.

"We have yet to determine whether all of the 11 bodies were related to the interethnic clashes or other cases," Djoko told reporters in Palangkaraya after seeing off President Abdurrahman Wahid back to Jakarta.

The President attended the commemoration of the 72nd Youth Pledge Day in the Central Kalimantan capital.

Djoko said the Army had dispatched three companies of reinforcement soldiers to help local police quell the riots and restore security in Pontianak.

Despite signs that the security situation was improving, security personnel continued their patrols to watch over several riot-prone locations on Sunday.

The clashes erupted on Wednesday and dragged on through Friday after a simple dispute involving a Madurese migrant bus driver and a Malay motorcycle driver near Kapuas river. One man was killed and five others were injured when the first mass brawl broke out.

The Pontianak administration imposed a night curfew as tension rose on Thursday, which saw the two warring parties attack each other's kiosks and houses.

The groups, armed with various sharp weapons and homemade rifles, also set up roadblocks on several main thoroughfares, forcing the police to issue a shoot-on-site order on Friday.

Djoko ruled out the possibility of revoking the curfew, but asserted the security personnel would be further tasked with preventing the spread of mass concentration of people.

Heavily armed security personnel have been on alert since Thursday in the clash-hit areas of Jl. Pahlawan crossroad, Jl. Tanjungpura, Jl. Imam Bonjol and Jl. Perintis Kemerdekaan.

Antara news agency reported on Sunday morning that peace was maintained in the town and local residents were seen resuming their daily activities.

Several markets began to open, marking the revival of business activities in the equatorial city. Vehicles were also seen passing through the streets.

Separately, West Kalimantan Police chief Brig. Gen. Atok Rismanto said that to avoid any unexpected repeat of the clashes, the security authorities had set up seven monitoring posts in the violence-prone areas.

Atok said the police also denied entry to a group of youths heading for a parade across the town in commemoration of the Youth Pledge Day from Sambas regency, where hundreds died in a spate of ethnic clashes in 1997.

Private television station SCTV reported on Sunday evening that police confiscated three firearms, 30 sharp weapons and several Molotov cocktails from the warring communities during a crackdown on firearms.

At least 800 residents, who left their houses when the riot first erupted, had returned home on Sunday and resumed their daily activities.

Meanwhile, chairman of West Kalimantan chapter of the National Commission on Human Rights Ronny Nicolas Rhangie said there was a similarity between the recent interethnic clashes in Pontianak to the 1997 Sambas incident, which left hundreds dead.

"There are indications of well-prepared provocateurs who converted a small scale clash into a wider conflict in a very short time," he told The Jakarta Post on the sidelines of the commission's plenary meeting here on Saturday.

Rhangie, who is also the war chief of the indigenous Dayak tribe, said that during both incidents, security forces also apparently failed to arrive in time to avoid the escalation of the conflict. (lup/bby)