Delegates began arriving in Jakarta Monday for peace talks between the leaders of Borneo’s warring communities as police reported that violence which has already left 500 dead had spread, killing at least one more person.
“The government is planning to hold a meeting between leaders of the Dayak and Madurese communities in Bogor (West Java) this week,” said a member of staff at the home affairs ministry’s spokesman office.
“It has been tentatively set for March 22,” said the official, who identified herself as Yuyun.
The head of the Central Kalimantan representative office in the capital, Salman Murad, said Central Kalimantan Governor Asnawi Agani, accompanied by Vice Provincial House Speaker Rinco Norkim and several Dayak community leaders had arrived in Jakarta early Monday to prepare for the talks.
“They will take part in a meeting at the home affairs ministry tomorrow (Tuesday) to prepare for the (March 22) meeting at the Bogor Palace,” Murad told AFP.
Bloody clashes in Central Kalimantan between Dayaks, the indigenous tribesmen of Borneo island, and settlers from Madura, an island off East Java, have left at least 500 dead and more than 50,000 refugees since mid-February.
Similar ethnic clashes took place in adjacent West Kalimantan in 1998 and 1999.
Central Kalimantan province spokesman Harun Al-Rasyid said Tuesday’s meeting at the ministry would also involve the governors of the three other provinces on the Indonesian part of Borneo — West, South and East Kalimantan — and the governor of East Java, the province which covers the island of Madura.
The meeting, to be attended by Indonesian Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, will discuss ways to halt the conflict and reconcile the various ethnic groups living in Kalimantan, ways to deal with the refugees and the rehabilitation of the unrest-hit areas, Al-Rasyid told AFP from Palangkaraya.
Murad said that the Central Kalimantan delegation had been invited to the meeting at the Bogor summer palace south of Jakarta.
Tensions on Borneo erupted on Feb. 18 in the town of Sampit and quickly spread to the capital of the Central Kalimantan province, Palangkaraya.
Unrest has returned to Sampit in recent days, with press reports saying at least eight Madurese were killed on Friday and Saturday.
Pulangpisau, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) southeast of Palangkaraya, was also tense, said police in Kualakapuas — the main town in the district of Kapuas which covers Pulangpisau.
Kompas quoted Central Kalimantan police chief Brigadier General Bambang Pranoto as saying that Madurese and Dayaks clashed late Saturday, leaving one dead.
But Kualakapuas police chief, Adjunct Chief Commissioner S. Maltha, denied the tension, and suggested a body was found floating on the Kahayan river in Pulangpisau could have come from outside the area.
“The corpse could have drifted from some other place … but it couldn’t be identified because it was already bloated,” he told the SCTV private television.
The Kahayan River runs through Palangkaraya and passes through Pulangpisau on its way to the sea.
Reports of trouble in another Central Kalimantan town, Pangkalan Bun, some 253 kilometers west of Palangkaraya, were denied by the district spokesman, Ajema Abdullah. But he said the town was tense.
“It is just a rumor, there is tension here. The leaders of the indigenous community and those of the other ethnic communities here last month already pledged to maintain harmonious relations,” Abdullah said.
The violence between Dayaks and the Madurese has been blamed on cultural differences between the two communities and the dominance of the Madurese in the local economy.
Since the outbreak of the violence, armed Dayak tribesmen have launched a bloody campaign to rid the province of Madurese.
Most of the 500 people killed were Madurese and many were decapitated or mutilated.