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The Conflict

There have been three major massacres of Madurese in the past few years in West and Central Kalimantan. It appears that the results of the earlier massacres in West Kalimantan influenced the later attacks.

West Kalimantan:
Two major conflicts have occurred in West Kalimantan within the past five years. In 1996-97, Dayak waged a “ritual war” against Madurese communities, following a fight in Sanggau Ledo, West Kalimantan, between Madurese and Dayak youths during which two Dayak were stabbed. The Dayak burned houses and killed their inhabitants. In some cases, they severed the heads of their victims and ate their livers, in a revival of a traditional Dayak method of revenge. Human Rights Watch reports that around 500 people, mostly Madurese, were killed and about 20,000 were displaced.

After the fall of the Suharto regime in 1999, violence broke out again, this time in the area of Sambas, West Kalimantan. During 1999-2000, this area witnessed some of Indonesia's most vicious ethnic killings. There were a reported 186 killed, although unofficial estimates are much higher, during clashes between Dayak and Madurese, causing the Madurese community to flee. By the year 2000, the number of Madurese refugees in West Kalimantan exceeded 50,000.

Central Kalimantan: Massacre at Sampit
The most recent violence occurred between February 18 – March 4, 2001, in the Central Kalimantan town of Sampit. Sampit, the capital of the Kotawaringin Timor district, was the only town in Central Kalimantan where Madurese were in the majority. In total, the massacre of Madurese by the Dayak left approximately 500 dead.

The event that most likely triggered the Sampit Massacre began in the town of Kereng Pangi on December 15, 2000. After a Dayak was stabbed to death by Madurese at a brawl fight, several hundred Dayak came out in search of the murderers and went on a rampage, attacking and burning houses, cars and other property of the Madurese. Although police reinforcements were sent in, they were unable to prevent the violence and earned the resentment of both sides. The Dayak blamed the police for not finding the perpetrators of the murder while the Madurese blamed the police for not stopping the Dayak rampage.

Two months later, the Sampit Massacre began on February 18, 2001 as a series of isolated killings by both sides escalated into a one-sided massacre of Madurese by Dayak. A group of Dayak killed five Madurese in a Sampit house, and Madurese retaliated by burning down a house containing a Dayak family. The majority Madurese then "took control" of Sampit, killing up to 24 Dayak and waving banners in the streets with slogans such as "Sampit is a Madurese town" and "Sampit is the second Sampang" (a major town in Madura).

By February 21, enraged Dayak from the hinterland organized themselves to wrest control over the city and take revenge. They burned Madurese homes and killed and beheaded hundreds of Madurese. Following the massacre, hundreds of Dayak youth were seen parading around town carrying the severed heads of their victims. Approximately 33,000 Madurese fled the city to the jungle or to the district head office.

The Dayak attacks spread to the provincial capital of Palangkaraya by February 25. Although the Dayak burned Madurese homes, there were few killings, as most Madurese had already fled the region. The same day, in what is widely cited as the worst incident, refugees that had been hiding in the forest were persuaded by local officials to be trucked down to the harbor under police protection. On the way, the convoy was stopped by a Dayak mob and the police fled. The mob killed 118 Madurese.

Attacks continued throughout the surrounding regions and, in most cases, police were unable to intervene. Reports claim that, in many cases, police ended up observing the fighting and in some cases they even fled. By the end of first week of March, most Madurese around Sampit and Palangkaraya had been evacuated. Dayak attacks then spread south to Kualakapuas, where 5,000 Madurese were evacuated from the area and Pangkalabun. Only at this time did the government declare that it would protect the area and refugees remaining in the province.

According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), by early March the number killed in the region had reached 469, among whom 456 were Madurese. It has been suggested that the numbers of Madurese killed may exceed this estimate. According to police, 1,192 homes had been burnt and another 748 damaged.

For more information, see:
Time Asia, The Darkest Season, Vol. 157 No. 10, March 12, 2001,
CNN, Kalimantan’s Agony: The Failure of Transmigrasi

Prospects for the Future:
On the whole, the Dayak have expressed little regret over the massacres and many see their campaign as a success. The Dayak "liberators" are hailed as heroes in Sampit and the Central Kalimantan capital of Palangkaraya. Some analysts have noted that if Madurese went back, they would likely face further widespread violence.

Although some fear that the violence could spread to other regions of Kalimantan, others argue that this may not happen. East Kalimantan for instance, has a great diversity of non-local ethnicities, therefore, there are more mechanisms to cope with inequalities. NGOs, including labor unions, are relatively strong and many are multi-ethnic.

It is not clear yet whether this conflict will erupt into a separatist movement. However, some Dayak feel that with regional autonomy, they would be able to control the flow of transmigrants to Kalimantan.


Program on Humanitarian Policy and Conflict Research
Copyright © 2001 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College
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