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Indonesia to send extra troops to Borneo

Indonesia to send extra troops to Borneo

Indonesia said on Monday that it would send extra soldiers to Borneo and its chief security minister expressed concern that ethnic violence there, which has already killed up to 400 people, could spread.

One report said that feared special forces could be sent as part of efforts to quell the violence which flared more than one week ago when indigenous Dayaks, once fearsome headhunters, began attacking Madurese immigrants.

Rampaging Dayaks have triggered a humanitarian crisis, forcing some 30,000 mainly Madurese to flee the town of Sampit in Central Kalimantan province, scene of most of the unrest.

Reporters in Sampit at the weekend said the military and police largely stood aside as the carnage spread there.

But on Monday, officials said security in Sampit had been restored. Palangkaraya, capital of Central Kalimantan and a four-hour drive away, was also relatively calm after Dayaks armed with swords and spears torched homes owned by Madurese overnight.

"Sampit is under control now but there are indications that the problem may spread to more remote places which are difficult to reach," chief security minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told a news conference in Palangkaraya.

"Because of that, we will deploy another additional battalion to strengthen the situation here," he said.

A battalion normally comprises 400 soldiers.

The grisly massacres - some victims were beheaded and their heads paraded through Sampit - underscore the severe tensions tearing at Indonesia and the inability of a fractured leadership to drag the world's fourth most populous nation out of crisis.

LEADERS LARGELY SILENT

The country's leadership has been largely silent on the slaughter, the latest to hit the giant country which is still struggling to extricate itself from three years of chaos.

President Abdurrahman Wahid who is on a visit to Egypt, has said little about the killings. Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri, in charge during the Muslim cleric's latest trip abroad, has said nothing publicly.

The Jakarta Post, quoting Wahid, reported on Monday that the special forces were needed to quell the violence.

By Monday an estimated 10,000 Madurese remained in Sampit, 750 km (465 miles) northeast of Jakarta. Officials were planning to evacuate them this week.

In Palangkaraya, children headed to school and traffic clogged the streets although occasional sword-wielding Dayaks were seen riding around on motorbikes.

Residents said some Dayak roadblocks were still in place.

The Jakarta Post said Wahid wanted to send notorious troops of the army's Kopassus unit to Borneo where tens of thousands of Madurese settlers live and have previously been the focus of savage attacks by indigenous groups.

"The serious nature of the feud between the Madurese and the Dayak people make it necessary for us to send the special forces there," the newspaper quoted Wahid as saying.

But Jakarta-based military spokesman Air Vice Marshal Graito Usodo said no decision had been made yet on which unit would go.

"There is a thought to do that. It has not been decided which special unit and details cannot be revealed," he told Reuters.

The various branches of Indonesia's military have special forces, but Kopassus are a household name.

They are one of the toughest and best-equipped units in the military, and have been frequently accused of human rights abuses and of inciting some of the communal violence around the country that is undermining Wahid's shaky 16-month rule.

HORROR STORIES

Madurese refugees have begun arriving back in East Java on naval ships, bringing with them stories of anguish.

"Ten people from my village were butchered," one Madurese man, Ruki, told Reuters.

"We had a good life before all of this happened and now we are suffering. My house is destroyed."

Local officials have put the confirmed death toll at 270 around Sampit, although the official Antara news agency said some 400 people had been killed based on information it had collected.

Dozens of people have been wounded.

Police have arrested about 80 people over the violence, including three alleged masterminds, official media has said.

Witnesses and officials say the Sampit violence began as fighting between the long-time rival groups but has shifted into one-sided Dayak attacks on Madurese.

The Kalimantan massacres have given the political enemies of Wahid, who left on a trip to the Middle East and Africa last week as the violence mounted, fresh ammunition to attack the cleric.

Some legislators have also demanded Wahid, whose two-week trip includes a lengthy pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca, return home immediately to deal with the crisis.


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