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Wednesday, 28 February, 2001, 08:31 GMT
Analysis: Behind the Borneo violence
Migrant Madurese families take refuge in a police station near Sampit
Migrant Madurese families take refuge in a police station near Sampit
By South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head

The clashes in the Indonesian province of central Kalimantan are part of a pattern of violence between the indigenous inhabitants of the island of Borneo and immigrants from other parts of the country.

Security forces in Kalimantan
Indonesian security forces are fragmented and under-funded
The terrible attacks on Madurese settlers by indigenous Dayaks are a legacy of a failed government policy - that of encouraging migration between the different islands of the archipelago.

They also reflect the collapse of trust among local communities and the authorities to resolve long-standing disputes.

Military impotence

One question which puzzles observers is why the Indonesian security forces appear to be doing so little to control or disarm the gangs of Dayaks.

Indigenous Dayaks brandish their spears
Indigenous Dayaks brandish their spears
One reason is that at first the soldiers and police in Central Kalimantan were simply outnumbered.

Another is that the military is no longer the feared and respected institution it was under the repressive Suharto regime.

Even under the former president, Indonesias armed forces were very small.

There were only around 500,000 personnel - about the same number as today - most of them badly- trained police officers, spread across a country of more than 200m inhabitants, as wide as the United States and spread across 13,000 islands.

Rule of fear

President Suharto relied on the fear he and a few elite military units instilled in the Indonesian people to deter any serious challenges to his rule.

Indonesian police
Police officers often resent the better-funded military
The military was able to concentrate its efforts on crushing the isolated outbreaks that did occur, and then use its control of the media to prevent news of the unrest from leaking out.

Back in February 1997, when I covered previous Dayak attacks on Madurese settlers, which left 1,000 dead, we were quickly detained by the elite troops sent in to quell the violence, and prevented us from covering the conflict.

Collapse in morale

All that changed after Suharto fell from power in May 1998. Morale collapsed in the ranks of the military, as a resentful public turned against them.

The economic crisis which had helped bring about the end of the Suharto regime was also hurting the soldiers.

They had relied on huge informal levies taken by their commanders from local businesses to boost their meagre salaries, even to pay for military operations.

Many of those businesses either collapsed after 1997, or just refused to pay up any more.

Decades of clashes

Immigrants from the impoverished island of Madura started arriving in Borneo as long ago as the 1930s.

A house continues to burn after ethnic clashes in Sampit
A house continues to burn after ethnic clashes in Sampit
The devoutly Muslim Madurese are viewed throughout Indonesia as aggressive settlers. Clashes between them and indigenous Dayaks go back many decades.

The Dayaks are the originial inhabitants of the Borneo rainforest. In recent years they have been marginalised by the rapid economic development of Indonesian Borneo and have found themselves competing with the Madurese for jobs.

When violence broke out in 1997 in West Kalimantan large groups of Dayaks armed themselves and many Madurese were beheaded in a grim revival of an old Dayak custom.

Following the fall of the Suharto regime, violence broke out again in 1999.

In the most recent violence, local Malays and other ethnic groups joined the Dayaks in their attacks on the immigrants.

Thousands of Madurese homes have been burnt, but there is nowhere else in Indonesia for the settlers to go and most of the refugees have stayed in West Kalimantan.

The indigenous people accuse the Madurese of being insensitive to their customs and culture.

Fragmented army

Indonesia's security forces today are every bit as fragmented along ethnic, religious and organisational lines as the civilian population.

Soldier in Kalimantan
The Indonesian military is no longer the force it was
The police, who have now been formally separated from the military command structure, have long resented the more privileged soldiers.

In several areas, including Borneo, police and military units have engaged in armed battles with each other.

In other areas, like the Molucca islands, troops and police officers have abandoned their units and joined the fighting on the side of their own ethnic or religious community.

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