Petty dispute sparks wave of sectarian violence on Borneo

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 11 December, 2007, 12:00am

A fight involving an ethnic Chinese man in the Indonesian province of West Kalimantan has triggered 24 hours of sectarian violence.

Indonesia's Metro TV reported yesterday that in retribution for the initial dispute, an angry mob targeted a Buddhist temple in the city of Pontianak on Friday.

The report said that several houses, motorcycles and cars were also damaged.

Further violence erupted after a separate, but related, argument took place in a cafe nearby.

Police were forced to call in reinforcements to restore calm, with special attention placed on temples.

According to local media, three people were still being held by the police, who were trying to establish what exactly sparked the violence.

West Kalimantan police spokesman Suhadi Siswo Wibowo called on people not to be provoked by rumours or to take the law into their own hands.

The general secretary of the Chinese Customary Cultural Council in West Kalimantan province, Andreas Acui Simanjaya, expressed concern and urged residents to help maintain the peace. Pontianak is known as a relatively harmonious community with a large ethnic Chinese population.

Jakarta-based risk assessment firm Concord Review said the racial tension there was disturbing and tight control needed to be imposed to prevent it spreading to other areas.

But it said the tensions in Pontianak were 'not a good indicator' of the overall state of inter-ethnic relations in Indonesia.

Until recently, local politicians often used ethnic Chinese as scapegoats for problems besetting the country.

Chinese-Indonesians suffered severe discrimination during the Suharto regime and it was only under the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, that parliament last year approved a law that finally erased ethnic discrimination from the constitution.

Previously, the constitution separated Indonesians along ethnic lines into 'indigenous' and 'non-indigenous' groups.

Ethnic Chinese were classified as non-indigenous and relegated to de facto second-class citizenship.