Blood. countless gallons of blood soaked deep into the clay of a soccer field. There have been two heavy thunderstorms in the four days since 118 children, women and men-Madurese refugees huddled together and promised safe passage-were systematically butchered on the high-school playing field in Parenggean, a logging town deep in central Kalimantan. Those rains weren't cleansing enough: in the still of a tropical afternoon, the sweet stink of putrescence hangs in the air like the unquiet spirits of those murdered here.
Halerin, a stocky sawmill hand in his thirties, was at the field that night. His account:
"They were about to be taken away by the police, and suddenly trucks appeared full of Dayaks from upriver. They cut off their heads and put them in sacks. And then they sliced them open and took out their hearts, and then..." Halerin pinches his fingers together and motions toward his mouth, the Indonesian gesture for eating. "The children and women were first. I even saw a baby being chopped. Maybe one month old at the most."
From a distance, the playing field looks terribly normal: new nets of green and blue in the goals, red and yellow flags marking the boundaries, rows of wooden benches where parents, in different days, cheered their children. The 118 bodies are gone, carted to a field outside town and buried. But signs of the massacre remain. Four circles of bonfire ash are dotted with personal effects of the victims: a rifled plastic wallet, a tube of lipstick, the shoe of a very small child on which Tweety Bird still cavorts under a coating of ash.
A hundred meters up the road, opposite the shiny new Ecce Homo Catholic church is another remainder of that night's fatal frenzy: a van reduced by fire to a charred frame on wheels. Inside, on seat springs that have had the cushion burned away, a blackened, desiccated corpse arches in agony. Nine people died in the vehicle, villagers say. And there were other victims, whispers Diran, who is squatting by the soccer pitch, puffing on a cigarette. "I don't know how many were chased into the forest and killed." He shrugs and gestures up the road in its direction. "But it must be a lot. You can still smell them up there."
Diran, who arrived in Parenggean five months ago looking for work, says he wasn't watching when the murders took place. But he heard the killings. He covers his ears and grimaces. "I couldn't stand the sound of their screams, especially the women and children."
Others in the town admit having seen the killings-though none admits to taking part. In fact, townspeople say they were trying to protect the refugees, many of whom were neighbors. That's the unbearable part: how close the Madurese came to freedom, but ended up in mass slaughter.
When the violence between Dayaks and Madurese began last week, many Madurese escaped into the jungle. A community leader negotiated a truce under which Madurese would be escorted to the safety of a refugee camp in Sampit, the provincial capital of Kalimantan, and then loaded onto boats to leave the island. The truce was broadcast over the loudspeakers of the local mosque normally used to call the faithful to prayer. Almost 400 Madurese emerged from the jungle and climbed onto trucks. The unfortunate ones were diverted to the soccer field. They were butchered as they climbed down from the trucks. The killing was done by the light of headlamps. Then the killers lit bonfires, tossing in the victims' personal possessions.
The killers planned carefully. Before the slaughter, they shut off the town's electricity generator. They checked identity cards to identify Madurese, sparing immigrants from Java. This was no outburst of berserk blood lust, but ethnic cleansing at its most cold-blooded.
A handful of policemen guarding the refugees fled when the violence began around 10 p.m., even though they were armed with M-16s. (The murderers had machetes, axes and a few homemade guns.) They came back at about one in the morning, Diran says, finally stopping the slaughter. Forewarned that the police were on their way, the murderers climbed back into their trucks and fled. The final toll on the soccer field: 26 men, 64 women, 20 children and 8 babies.