By week's end an influx of troops seemed to have stopped the madness in Kalimantan at least. But the calm owed much to the fact that mobs of Malays and Dayaks had chased out thousands of Madurese--who originate from an island off Java--from the contested regency of Sambas, about 800 km north of Jakarta on the western coast of Borneo. Sketchy reports put the death toll in a single week of bloodletting at 180. Some 21,000 Madurese refugees crammed into shelters and an indoor sports stadium in the provincial capital of Pontianak, while 9,000 are waiting in safe areas around Sambas.
Their future is uncertain in more ways than one. The Madurese--a mere 8% of the province's population--have inspired resentment ever since they began emigrating to Kalimantan in large numbers in the 1960s. A series of riots in 1997, in which as many as 3,000 people may have died, were only the most recent in a string of battles between Madurese and indigenous Dayaks. Over the years, thousands of Dayaks have been displaced from their rainforest lands by giant logging companies; by the 1990s, 12 million hectares of forest were held by just 100 licenses. Yet Dayak anger did not fall upon the ethnic-Chinese tycoons who owned those firms. As Dayaks began to settle in towns along the edges of the forest, the slights they felt were more local--from petty crime, land disputes and a certain pushiness that was ascribed to those Madurese who became their neighbors.
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That, as Wiranto noted, was no solution at all--even if another district were willing to absorb the refugees. If we are moved, that means we are no longer part of Indonesia, says Muslimin, a local Muslim leader of Madurese descent. In Pontianak's Pangsuma stadium, 45-year-old Mohammad shares 6 sq m of a badminton court with his wife and six children, all of whom were born in Sambas. Mohammad himself has visited Madura only once, when he was 10 years old; his wife never has. When he says wistfully, I really hope that the soldiers will be able to take care of matters, so I can return home, he means to Sambas. Pangsuma stadium is filled to bursting with Madurese who share that sentiment. Time is also a factor. As University of Indonesia psychology professor Sarlito Wirawan notes, those frightened citizens are very vulnerable to provocateurs. The longer they linger in their temporary shelters, the more uncertain the stability of the province.
The same might well be said of Indonesia itself. While the inspirations for last week's bloodshed may have been eminently local, they point toward a larger national problem. The very fact that such tensions could explode so easily into violence this time--that whatever bonds held those animosities in check have disintegrated--only increases the possibility that it will happen again. As many analysts have noted, the riots in Ambon erupted only after mosques and churches were razed elsewhere in Indonesia in an escalating series of revenge attacks. At the same time, many worry that Indonesia's 500,000-man army is spread too thinly across the country's 13,000 islands to quell ethnic flare-ups in several places at once. The situation has emboldened rioters: even after troops arrived in Sambas, they faced open resistance and even gunfire from Malay and Dayak mobs. In both Borneo and Ambon, panicked troops have fired upon large crowds, killing several demonstrators.
Such tactics can only fuel the visceral resentment that led to last week's riots. What Indonesia lacks, say many analysts, is an established tradition of resolving conflicts peacefully. What has been done [in Kalimantan] is the best that can be expected, says Siswono Yudohusodo, a former cabinet minister. But it doesn't solve the main problem, which in this nation is to give a sense of justice to everybody. Until that happens, the most local of disputes will have the potential to flare into a much wider conflict. In novelist Pramoedya Ananta Toer's acclaimed Buru Quartet, a character asks the fierce Madurese bodyguard, Darsam: What's the meaning of one person with one machete? In Indonesia right now, it means trouble.
Reported by Zamira Loebis/Pontianak, Jason Tedjasukmana/Singkawang and Lisa Rose Weaver/Jakarta