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Indonesia death toll hits 165

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February 24, 2001 


SAMPIT, Indonesia (AP) Refugees fleeing an ethnic slaughter boarded a navy ship on Borneo island Saturday as two bodies floated by the dock a grim reminders of violence over the past week that has left at least 165 dead.

Thousands of refugees were cramming aboard trucks and heading to the river port, where the ships were preparing to evacuate them to Java island. Others were being taken overland to other parts of the province.

Violence between native Dayak people and immigrants from Madura island erupted in Sampit and surrounding districts on Sunday. The groups regularly clash over land. Dayak gangs armed with machetes and daggers have paraded the severed heads of Madurese victims around the town.

In Sampit, the bodies of about 30 adults and children lay outside the hospital in a bloody heap. Some corpses were headless.

Doctors said 165 people had been confirmed dead. Officials said the death toll was likely to rise.

As the heavily laden trucks brought frightened people from government buildings and police posts where they had sought refuge to the port area, several dozen Dayak natives armed with spears and machetes stood by and watched impassively.

``I love Sampit, I have lived here almost all my life, but I will never feel safe here again,'' said Fanimo, a 35-year-old settler from the island of Madura.

Indonesian and foreign non-governmental relief organizations were gearing up Saturday to provide medical assistance, food and shelter for the thousands of people displaced by the violence.

Many houses in Sampit a town 480 miles northeast of Indonesia's capital, Jakarta were on fire Friday as trucks packed with armed Dayaks patrolled the streets.

Dayaks armed with machetes and daggers have paraded the severed heads of Madurese victims around the town. Two joint police and military battalions were being deployed to back local security forces.

``The situation is getting worse,'' said regional police chief Brig. Gen. Bambang Pranoto. ``The riots are spreading to other towns where there are still many Madurese.''

This week's killings on Borneo are the latest in a series of bloody outbreaks of violence there: In the past several years, hundreds have died in clashes in the area, most sparked by land disputes between the Dayaks and Madurese immigrants.

On Wednesday, the State Department urged American citizens not to travel to Indonesia, warning that unrest and violence could break out at any time.

And as the slaughter continued, the World Bank warned Friday that Indonesia could be headed for an economic collapse unless the government stops rampant violence and restores political stability.

``Regional unrest, and political and ethnic tensions threaten national unity,'' the bank said in a statement.

For decades, former dictator Suharto used his security forces to crush any public unrest, keeping a lid on tensions among Indonesia's many ethnic and religious groups. But since his ouster in 1998, violence has flared throughout the archipelago. Efforts by the new democratic government to resolve the multiple crises have largely failed.

Thousands have been killed in fighting between troops and separatist rebels in Aceh province and between Christians and Muslims in the Maluku islands. In Irian Jaya, an upsurge of violence has claimed dozens of lives since December, when separatists hoisted independence flags. In addition, dozens have died in unexplained terrorist bombings in several major cities, including the capital, Jakarta.

Embattled President Abdurrahman Wahid was on a 14-day trip to the Middle East and Africa. Before departing Thursday, he told reporters he was unconcerned about leaving amid the renewed violence.

Over the past 40 years, tens of thousands of people, mostly Madurese, have resettled on Borneo in central Kalimantan province. The government program that brought them here was designed to relieve overcrowding in other areas, but it has sparked resentment among the Dayak natives.

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