Borneo ethnic clashes toll tops 60 in wake of fare row

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 20 March, 1999, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 20 March, 1999, 12:00am

The death toll in an outbreak of ethnic violence in Indonesian Borneo went above 60 yesterday.

Security forces, outnumbered by warring villagers, are struggling to control the trouble, which has seen three villages razed to the ground in the northwest of Kalimantan province.

The killings were sparked by a fracas over an unpaid bus fare. What should have been a neighbourhood spat escalated into murder and decapitation, with reports of a severed head being paraded on a pole.

Two years ago, fighting between indigenous Dayaks and migrants from Madura, an island near Java, escalated into major warfare, feeding off long-held resentments about land rights and cultural conflicts.

This time, the fighting began when an indigenous Malay refused to pay his fare on a bus driven by a Madurese migrant.

Sources in the area say the precise battle lines are confused but that one certainty is the unpopularity of the Madurese.

Malays, Bugis, Chinese and Dayaks - all of whom are indigenous to the area - are united against the Madurese, many of whom were sent to Kalimantan as part of former president Suharto's forced transmigration programme.

As in other cases across Indonesia, once a fight has started, the original cause seems forgotten in the rush to avenge a perceived slight. The fear now is that the under-staffed military's attempts to quell the unrest could result in more deaths.

'The fighting and the burning are still going on in three districts in the Sambas region,' a police intelligence official said yesterday, referring to the main affected area.

The regional military chief, Major-General Zaenuri Hasyim, said the death toll was at least 64 and that 13,600 people, mostly Madurese, were homeless.

In Singkawang, south of the worst-hit areas, fighting between Malays and Madurese using poisoned machetes was continuing.

At a military base on the town's outskirts, Madurese children sprawled on a concrete floor beside their families' hastily assembled belongings.

Pattern of violence - Page 10