Fri, 23 Feb 2001

Thousands fleeing riot-torn Sampit

JAKARTA (JP): A naval ship is steaming towards Central Kalimantan, to evacuate thousands of refugees fleeing ethnic violence in Sampit that by official estimates has claimed 57 lives.

The spokesman of the Navy's Eastern Fleet Command, Lt. Col. Ditya Soedarsono, confirmed in Surabaya, East Java, that a landing ship, ironically named KRI Teluk Sampit-515, had been sent to Central Kalimatan to transport thousands of refugees.

"I do not know where the refugees will be shipped to but it is clear they have to leave Sampit," Ditya said as quoted by Antara.

The Navy ship, which can carry some 2,000 people, was sent in after six vessels belonging to PT Pelni in Surabaya canceled their departures because their civilian crews were afraid of the danger it might involve.

Refugees currently sheltered in various locations in Sampit will be taken to the nearby port in Samuda, about 40 kilometers south of Sampit, where they will board the Navy vessel.

The evacuations are expected to commence on Friday morning.

Antara reported that some 25,000 people are seeking refuge in tightly guarded temporary shelters near military compounds, police stations and local administration offices.

One of the most crowded temporary shelters is in the district head's office in Sampit, where a woman gave birth in the yard of the office.

While a majority of the refugees are Madurese migrants, there are refugees from many other ethnic groups, particularly Javanese.

The ethnic conflict, which initially involved migrant Madurese settlers and local Dayaks, first erupted in Sampit in the early hours of Sunday.

After a brief respite violence again exploded on Tuesday night and spread to other parts of the province, which has seen repeated recurrences of ethnic clashes in recent years.

Central Kalimantan Police deputy chief Sr. Comr. M. Djatmiko said 57 people had died in clashes since Sunday.

The spokesman for the office of the district head, Jauhar Fauzi, said the number of fatalities stood at 55, pointing to the number of dead at Dr. Murjani General Hospital.

However, a Sampit resident who helped in clean-up operations in the town said the number of dead was closer to 100, with many bodies still on the streets.

The situation in Sampit itself remains tense despite the increased presence of security forces, with sporadic outbreaks of violence occurring and houses still being torched.

Meanwhile in Jakarta, the National Police have set up a special team to evaluate the situation, with three middle-ranking officers due to travel to Sampit.

The National Police's chief of general information services, Sr. Comr. Timbul Sianturi, also revealed on Thursday that police seized 12 homemade bombs and a large firecracker from several houses on Jl. Pasar and Jl. Sukabumi in Sampit.

Timbul said the owners of the houses where the bombs were found were among the 41 people being detained.

He said as many as 79 people had been taken into police custody, with 38 being released because of a lack of evidence.

According to police records received in Jakarta, 57 houses in and around Sampit have been damaged and 23 have been burned down by mobs.

He said police have deployed at least 900 officers to Sampit and the surrounding areas, in addition to 300 soldiers from the Indonesian Military, to stem the violence.

A delegation of Dayak community leaders and Central Kalimantan leaders arrived in Jakarta on Thursday afternoon and met with National Police chief Gen. Surojo Bimantoro.

The delegation was led by M. Usop, who on Wednesday in Palangka Raya stated that while migrants were welcome in Central Kalimantan, those who could not adapt to the local customs should leave.

During the meeting in Jakarta, the delegation presented several demands aimed at helping to calm the situation. Among the demands was the release of Dayaks being detained in connection with the current violence.

They also demanded that Central Kalimantan Police chief Brig. Gen. Bambang Pranoto be dismissed for failing to stop the clashes. (jun/hdn)