Social media

14 killed in ethnic clashes in Sumatra

Hate messages on social media sites inflame tension after minor sexual harassment

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 01 November, 2012, 3:54am

Hundreds of police and soldiers have been dispatched to restore security in western Indonesia after 14 people were killed and dozens wounded in ethnic clashes.

Four people died during a clash on Sunday in Balinuraga in the province of Lampung, with the death toll climbing to 14 after more people were killed when the clashes continued Monday and yesterday, said a National Police spokesman, Brigadier General Boy Rafli Amar.

Amar said the three days of violence were triggered by minor sexual harassment among young men and girls from the Lampung ethnic group and descendants of Balinese people in Sumatra.

The violence was further inflamed by messages of hate allegedly circulating on social media sites and by text messages.

Most residents of Balinuraga are of Balinese descent and came to Lampung under a government migration programme during Suharto's New Order regime.

Amar said nine people were hospitalised with stab wounds and broken bones, and more than 1,300 villagers had to be evacuated from their homes into a temporary shelter in a police compound in the provincial capital, Bandar Lampung.

Authorities are trying to stop the fighting, Amar said. More than 1,500 police and 500 soldiers were sent to the area yesterday when the fighting escalated as angry mobs set alight more than 160 houses and a dozen vehicles.

Television footage showed houses and vehicles burning, with blood and broken glass on the streets. Soldiers carried bloodied bodies away.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono ordered an investigation into the violence yesterday, shortly before leaving on an official trip to the United Kingdom.

"I call on all sides to take responsibility. All parties must care for and work toward creating peace and harmony. Never again leave it to the police and TNI. Only with the people's active participation can we optimally and effectively prevent further clashes," Yudhoyono said.

Indonesia is 90 per cent Muslim and religious minorities often complain of being persecuted, although most Indonesians practise a moderate form of Islam.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse