No 'Emergency' In Borneo

Actor Thomas Haden Church and wife, Mia, attend the premiere of "Spider-Man 3" at the Kaufman Astoria Studios during the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival on April 30, 2007. Church plays one of two new villians in the film, which explores Spider-Man's darker side.
Peter Kramer/Getty Images for TFF
With Indonesia's leaders under fire for their lethargic response to nearly two weeks of ethnic bloodshed in Central Kalimantan province, Vice President Megawati Sukarnopu visited a refugee camp in Sampit Thursday and said there was no need to declare a state of emergency.

In 12 days of fighting in the Indonesian section of Borneo island, Dayak natives have killed at least 469 people in a largely successful drive to purge the province of Madurese settlers.

Two ships carrying 9,000 refugees departed Sampit port Thursday for the city of Surabaya on Indonesia's main island of Java. Officials said about 23,000 people had been evacuated since the crisis began. About 25,000 Madurese settlers are still sheltering in squalid camps, short of food and medicine.

The Dayaks
The Dayaks make up about 40 percent of the population in Borneo's Kalimantan provinces.

The word "Dayak" refers to the largely non-Muslim indigenous peoples who inhabit the interior regions of Borneo. About 2 million strong, the Dayaks are mostly Christian, though many still hold ancient animist beliefs.

In recent years many Dayaks took jobs in the island's gold, tin and copper mines.

Before Dutch colonialists outlawed the practice in the late 19th century, the Dayaks had a well-deserved reputation as headhunters. Ancient Dayak tradition holds there is no better symbol of victory than the head of an enemy — and that cutting out the hearts of foes helps destroy the evil believed to live in the organ.


Critics have slammed both the central government and the security forces, which largely stood by as Dayak gangs slaughtered Madurese migrants.

Police started shooting rioters on Tuesday in a bid to halt the violence. Police said they confiscated hundreds of machetes, spears and other homemade weapons, and arrested about 125 people.

However, with most Madurese settlers in Central Kalimantan province either gone or waiting to go, Indonesians began asking whether their government's weak response might spur similar violence elsewhere.

"Whoever wants to create trouble now knows that they can and will get away with it," said political analyst Dede Oetomo.

The atrocities, which have included numerous beheadings, have underscored Indonesia's growing inability to control ethnic and separatist violence after four decdes of dictatorship under former President Suharto.

But after Megawati toured the refugee camp, she said the situation was under control and that there was no need to declare civil emergency — one step down from martial law.

On her return to Jakarta, Megawati made a brief statement, saying the situation was under control in Central Kalimantan province on the Indonesian part of Borneo Island.

"I was happy to hear that local parliamentarians have asked that a state of emergency not be imposed,'' she said.

Critics disagreed.

"If you evacuate the Madurese without thinking about how they might one day return then it legitimizes the violence against them," said Munir, a lawyer who runs the government's Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence.

"The authorities are helping in ethnic cleansing," added Munir, who like many Indonesians uses one name.

On Sunday, 118 Madurese were herded onto a soccer field and slaughtered, their bodies dumped in a mass grave. In Kualakuayan village, where the Dayaks responsible for Sunday's massacre are alleged to have come from, residents expressed support for the struggle to drive all Madurese from Kalimantan.

"The Madurese wanted to take over the Dayak land. They are thieves and murderers," said local villager Edwin, who wore a shirt with the American rock band "Megadeth" written across it.

The perception of government inaction has been fueled by President Abdurrahman Wahid's refusal to cut short a 14-day overseas trip. He told reporters in Cairo this week that his presence was not needed and that media reports on the number of dead were exaggerated.

Made up of hundreds of different ethnic groups scattered across 13,000 islands, Indonesia has a long history of tribal warfare. The unrest was quelled by force under the 32-year Suharto dictatorship that ended in 1998.

The Madurese
The Madurese make up about 8 percent of the population in Borneo's Kalimantan provinces.

The Madurese, strict Muslims, began arriving in large numbers in the 1960s as part of a government-ordered relocation drive to relieve overcrowding on Madura Island, just off the coast of Indonesia's main island, Java, about 200 miles south of Borneo.

Now numbering around 100,000, they compete with the Dayaks for space in the lowest echelons of Borneo's economy. Many Madurese resent the Dayak habits of keeping dogs and eting pork — animals shunned in Islam.

The people of Madura Island are culturally close to the people of Java, site of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta.


Government-orchestrated migrations were common under the Suharto regime, and help explain some of the ethnic tensions in parts of Indonesia.

Borneo is one of many trouble spots in the country; some fear that impunity for the Dayaks could encourage violent groups in Maluku, Irian Jaya or Aceh — sites of past separatist, religious or sectarian unrest.

There is deep-rooted distrust between migrants and indigenous people in the eastern Irian Jaya province, and rebels in Aceh, on the northern tip of Sumatra island, have repeatedly attacked settlers' villages.

In the Maluku chain of islands in central Indonesia, a Christian-Muslim war broke out two years ago largely due to an influx of Muslim settlers.

The Dayaks' victims are settlers or descendants of settlers from Madura island, just off the coast of Indonesia's main island, Java, about 200 miles south of Borneo.

The first major clash between the two groups occurred in 1997 in West Kalimantan province, when about 3,000 people were killed.

More than 100,000 Madurese have settled in Kalimantan province since the 1960s as part of a government program to relieve overcrowding on Madura island. They often competed with Dayaks for jobs.