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Sunday, 4 March, 2001, 13:45 GMT
Borneo's head-hunters
Dayak burning property left by Madurese
Dayaks have warned Madurese not to return
By Richard Galpin in central Kalimantan

It was probably the tenth checkpoint we had been through that day.

The makeshift barricades, made from felled trees, oil drums and burning tyres, had been set up on almost every road in the heart of this province.

Men armed with an array of traditional weapons were checking all vehicles to ensure there were no migrants from Madura on board.


If so they would have been dragged out and killed without a moment's hesitation.

On most occasions the indigenous Dayak people manning the barricades had smiled and given us the thumbs-up when they realised we were foreign journalists.

They were both excited and proud of what they were doing here - killing and driving out the migrant community.

Many wanted to shake our hands.

But at this particular checkpoint on a dirt track approaching a town called Perenggean, they were more suspicious.

As usual we wound down the windows to show who we were and wish them good day.

One man with glazed eyes and a machete in his hand began talking to me in Indonesian.

Dayak burning house
Dayaks have been looting migrants' property
He gesticulated - linking his little-fingers together - muttering something I did not fully understand.

Out of habit I simply nodded - pretending I knew exactly what he meant.

But as I did so he became more animated - repeating what he had just said.

Salutary lesson

I kept on nodding politely until one of my colleagues - who is fluent in Indonesian - finally realised what was happening and quickly intervened.

We were allowed through the checkpoint and drove away at speed.

Madurese woman trying to board transport
Madurese are desperate to get on boats out of Borneo
Our driver smiled at me and explained that the man at the checkpoint was about to kill me. He had been asking if I was friendly with the Madurese people.

It was a salutary lesson - and not just in the dangers of having only a little knowledge of a foreign language.

It is clear the desire to kill is consuming the Dayaks in this province.

Hunt

Even now as I write this there are probably hundreds of armed men searching the jungle - hunting down the Madurese who have been in hiding since the attacks began two weeks ago.

And there is no doubting what their fate will be if they are caught - they will be stabbed and hacked to death with machetes and spears.

A photograph showing the alleged severed head of a Madurese
The desire to kill is consuming the Dayaks
Neither women, children nor babies will be spared.

Some will be decapitated - the heads kept as trophies - as is the custom of the Dayak people.

Officially it is now known that in total more than 400 people have been killed so far in this outburst of ethnic violence.

But many more bodies may be lying in the jungle, which will never be found.

Indelible image

Of all the images I shall take away with me of what has happened in central Kalimantan over the past few days, there is one which will never fade from my memory.

It is from the day we arrived in the province and managed to reach the town of Sampit, where the killings began.

We had gone to a run-down hotel which had become the unofficial headquarters of the Dayak fighters.

Central Kalimantan province
The government sent more troops to the region
There were rumours many heads were being kept inside this building.

The atmosphere was hostile. But we were allowed through to the entrance, as we said we wanted to interview a Dayak leader.

A man called Andung Rachmat duly appeared, describing himself as the guest relations officer.

With a smile - which at any other time would have been charming - he freely admitted that the Dayaks would continue the slaughter until all the migrants from Madura had been forced out of this province.

Severed head

And at that moment - almost precisely on cue - a pick-up truck full of Dayak fighters came round the corner towards the hotel.

They were making the traditional war cry.

Just as the truck passed us, one of the fighters inside bent down to pick something up and hold it aloft for us all to see.

It was a freshly-severed head - the skin turned grey in death.

Madurese refugee
Madurese refugees crowd on to trucks
There are many other horrific scenes I could describe - not least the aftermath of the massacre in the town of Perenggean, where almost 120 people, the majority women, were butchered at night on a football field.

But the more pressing issue right now is how all this can be stopped.

Troops

The government certainly does not have any real answers.

All it has done so far is to send more and more troops and police to the region - who have failed to intervene to stop the violence.

Instead for the most part they have stood by and watched.

The only substantial role they have played to date has been to protect the 20,000 or so refugees in Sampit from further attack.

They have also helped escort some migrants from their hiding-places in the jungle to the camps.

Ships

So it seems the authorities are prepared to accept this particularly brutal and successful campaign of ethnic cleansing.

They are after all providing the ships which are transporting thousands of migrants away from Kalimantan altogether.

And as the migrants leave, the Dayaks are burning down their houses and shops - to eradicate permanently all traces of their community from this province.

Now Dayaks in other parts of Kalimantan must be wondering if they too could achieve what has been done in this central province.

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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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