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The BBC's Richard Galpin
"The violence here could so easily be repeated"
 real 56k

Friday, 2 March, 2001, 12:19 GMT
Borneo tolerance plea
Sampit refugee camp
Thousands are waiting for evacuation
The Indonesian Government says tens of thousands of Madurese refugees fleeing bloodshed in Borneo can return once peace is restored.


"In principle, every Indonesian citizen has the right to live anywhere in the republic's territory. If the situation allows they can come back," Home Affairs Minister Suryadi Sudirja said.

But reports spoke of fears that official backing for the refugees' right of return could provoke Borneo's indigenous Dayaks to further violence.

Dayak mobs in Indonesia's Central Kalimantan province on the island have killed nearly 500 migrant settlers in the last two weeks.

Many of the victims have been beheaded and mutilated.

The Dayaks have also torched thousands of homes and shops belonging to the migrants.

Dayak burning house
Dayaks have been looting migrants' property
Reports say around 22,000 people have already fled and an estimated 25,000 more are awaiting evacuation.

Most of the violence has been targetted at settlers from the island of Madura and their descendents.

Indonesian police have now been told to shoot rioters on sight.

Plea

Mr Sudirja said his ministry had ordered the local authorities to protect the refugees' properties pending their return.

Madurese woman trying to board transport
Madurese are desperate to get on boats out of Borneo
"We assume that they will come back. They have lived there for 80 years," he said following discussions on the crisis with Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri and military chief Widodo Adisucipto.

Mr Sudirja said allowing native ethnic groups to expel settlers from other parts of Indonesia would threaten the country's unity.

He also called on the Dayaks to accept differences between them and the Madurese.

"We have to accept the fact that people are not the same. If we want peace we have to accept each other," Mr Sudirja added.

Warning

Army chief General Endriartono Sutarto has meanwhile warned against any attempt to overthrow President Abdurrahman Wahid while he is on a pilgrimage to Mecca.

Calls for President Wahid to resign have intensified since the ethnic violence broke out in Borneo.

Mr Wahid, who left the country as the killings were beginning, has refused to cut short his trip to deal with the crisis.

Analysts say the bloodshed and the president's apparent lack of compassion have undermined his political support.

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See also:

01 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Witnesses to Borneo's killings
01 Mar 01 | Asia-Pacific
Borneo emergency ruled out
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