March 10th 2001

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Nationals: the last hurrah?

EDITORIAL: Government embraces the politics of panic

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Competition Policy the next to go?

INDONESIA: Borneo violence further weakens Wahid

NATIONAL AFFAIRS: Why refugees are a soft target

Help needed for North Queensland farmers

DRUGS: Drug policy criticised by international board

Straws in the Wind

Letter: Kim Beazley - look at the record

Senate inquiry attacks NZ apple import proposal

ECONOMICS: Trade blocs - where will Australia fit?


HUMAN RIGHTS: Amnesty Report may sink China's Olympic bid

HEALTH: Lessons of SA abortion experience

COMMENT: Paul Lyneham - Australia's H. L. Mencken

Teen books gone from "honest" to "offensive"

Letter: Refugees - coarsening of attitudes

Letter: Alice Springs - Darwin railway

Letter: One Nation

Books promotion page

Borneo violence further weakens Wahid

by Greg Poulgrain

News Weekly, March 10, 2001
Last week in Central Kalimantan, ethnic violence erupted again between the indigenous Dayak community and Indonesian transmigrants from the island of Madura, situated adjacent to the north-west coast of Java.

This is an extension of the feud in West Kalimantan that cost the lives of 3,000 Madurese in early 1997. When the smoke had cleared, and blood had dried after the pogrom in '97, both Dayaks and Madurese admitted that the persons responsible for starting that unrest were provocateurs. The Indonesian army had even supplied the Dayaks with hunting rifles, which might partly explain why the Madurese death toll was so high. But it was the deaths by machete that made the news, and still very few outside observers realise the unrest was started with help from the Indonesian Army.

Last week in Central Kalimantan, the hand of provocateurs was again evident. Two local government officials as reported in The Guardian paid a group of Dayaks to attack a Madurese housing complex (February 26, 2001).

The latest death toll was 400, and this will increase to 1,000 or more when the bodies are counted. The trouble started in Sampit, a river port in Central Kalimantan, but now has spread to the capital, Palangkaraya.

Some of the Madurese are being decapitated and their heads paraded on sticks.

The cultural tragedy that occurred in 1997 is repeated again for world media along with the viscera and vengeance. Once owners of their own community food production areas in forest-gardens, Dayaks have become marginalised, the lowest members in a society that treats them with disdain in their own land.

In the Sukarno era, the provincial governor and four of the six district governors were Dayak. But in the Suharto era, they were reduced to one token representative, and excluded from almost all profit-making ventures which used the natural resources of their land, the mining and timber industries.

A few individuals well-connected to the central government Žlite in Jakarta, such as Bob Hasan, a close associate of Suharto, accumulated billions of dollars. Permits for logging and plywood companies (and Bob Hasan was the world's largest producer of plywood) were granted by Jakarta over land that the Dayak considered their own. Their protests were met with local government opposition with the accusation that they were primitive people "obstructing development".

The Madurese were brought in as transmigrants from across the Java Sea to clear the forest or work plantations. In the towns they worked mostly in the transport industry as pedicab drivers, petty traders or on the river ferries. Using the knife as a weapon is a Madurese tradition and disputes with Dayaks often led to bloodshed. In the last three decades, ten serious incidents of widespread social unrest have occurred as a result of conflict between Dayak and Madurese, sometimes starting with a single murder.

In the Dayak tradition, if blood is spilled, the whole group must respond, not just the family of the person who was injured or slain. The fact that the Madurese received benefits from the central government which were denied the Dayaks, or sometimes taken from the Dayaks in the case of the land used by transmigrants, added to the bitterness of the marginalised people. In the mid-1980s, 60% of the entire road network in West Kalimantan was constructed as part of transmigration.

The latest violence erupted just as the President of Indonesia, Abdurrahman Wahid, headed off to the Middle East for a 14-day tour, turning a deaf ear to those critical of his style of governing, and warning that impeachment would only create instability.

The instability arising from unrest in Kalimantan is perceived by some in the Indonesian army as reaffirming their appointed task to restore control, if not assume command; and any talk of sending the army back to the barracks would seem misplaced.

More than 8,000 Madurese were evacuated by navy ship back to Java on 25 February; and another 15,000 are in camps, where some have died from poor sanitation, waiting for their chance to flee the wrath of the Dayaks. Some refugees have complained: "The police and army did nothing. They let this happen." The same accusation might also be made with reference to the conflict in the Moluccas, particularly Ambon. Unlike Kalimantan, the religious violence there has not been labelled as "ethnic cleansing" despite the deaths of more than 5,000 persons in the Moluccas since 1999.

If evacuation of Madurese will bring an end to the unrest, there is some way to go yet. About 100,000 people from Madura were settled in Kalimantan as part of the transmigration program in the Suharto era. Because resettlement of contract labourers first began in the 1930s in the days of Dutch colonial rule, some (who are still Madurese) will be leaving for a new land altogether.

On 25 February, security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, and the armed forces chief, Admiral Widodo Adisutjipto, inspected the scene of devastation and death. Reinforcements were coming, they announced, and the situation would soon be under control. Meanwhile the value of the Indonesian rupiah has slid to the dangerous level of being only 200 rupiah away from the crucial exchange rate of $US1 = 10,000 Rp.

The IMF has threatened to hold back on any further loans because of the combined effects of the political and economic crisis, and the fact that reform seems to have lost impetus. If Jakarta proceeds according to plan and increases the price of fuel by 20% in April, the people and the economy will be at screaming point.

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