UNITED24 - Make a charitable donation in support of Ukraine!



Violence between Dayak and Madurese has occurred several times in in West Kalimantan -- eight times in the last two decades. Ethnic tensions continue in West Kalimantan, where hundreds of people were killed and thousands displaced following fighting that began in late December 1996. Bloody clashes between the indigenous Dayak people, migrants from Madura and the military started in early January 1997, and resulted in a death toll of over 500; the army admitted to 300 dead. The army sent in 3,000 troops to fight tribesmen, including six battalions of troops and the Army Strategic Reserve, eventually patched together a fragile truce. By late March 1999, Indonesian press reports said that at least 33,000 Madurese refugees were sheltering in the capital, Pontianak.

The violence is a symptom of discontent which has built up over many years, and the history of clashes between the Dayaks and the Madurese go back as far as 1983, when many died in clashes in Pontianak. Many landless peasants from Java and the island of Madura (SE of Java) moved to West Kalimantan as part of a government resettlement program which offers free land, housing and food aid. Tensions between Dayaks, who make up 40 per cent of West Kalimantan's population and have converted to Christianity, and the Muslim Madurans have been fueled by fears that the migrants will take away land and jobs from the indigenous people. Dayak communities have been dispossessed as their traditional forest lands are appropriated by outsiders in government-supported resettlement, development and large-scale commercial enterprise schemes. Anthropological accounts of Dayaks make much of their former reputation as headhunters, based on a belief that to take a head is to take the strength of your victim.

In February and March of 2001 brtual violence erupted between the Dayak and Madurese on the island of Borneo, causing thousands of Madurese to flee the island. Approximately 500 deaths occured, with Indonesian security forces unable to contain the worst of the violence.

In 2002, the conflict reached a standstill as most Madurese kept fleeing for refugee in make-shift camps in Central and West Kalimantan, or with family in East Java and Madura Island. Many Madurese remain oustide their home areas due to fear of reprisals if they return. Relations between the Dayak and Madurese remain poor in the wake of the violence.

In 2004, an estimated 130,000 out of the estimated 180,000 Madurese expelled from Central Kalimantan to East Java province remained in displacement either on mainland East Java or on Madura Island, living mainly with host families and in a small number of camps. Only about 43,000 displaced returned. More Madurese started returning to Central Kalimantan after 2004 following the distribution of assistance packages by the government and the issuance by the provincial government of regulations promoting and facilitating their return.

By mid-2005, about 80% of the estimated 180,000 displaced Madurese had returned to Central Kalimantan. In West Kalimantan, the majority of the estimated 78,000 Madurese displaced by inter-ethnic violence in 1999 have been resettled resettlement camps since 2002, as their return was not deemed realistic due to continuing Dayak hostility. At the end of 2005, roughly 35,000 Madurese displaced remain unable to return to Central Kalimantan

In 2005, the National Police of the Republic of Indonesia began establishing police stations in key conflict areas, including in Kalimantan, to help reduce violence and increase stability.

Efforts to forge peace agreements among representatives of the key actors in the conflict met with little success, but much of the violence ended as the Madurese population fled. Refugeess in camps faced outstanding issues resulting from the conflict such as accessing basic living necessities and rebuilding sustainable livelihoods where economic opportunities are scarce.

The national government sponsored an increasing number of palm oil plantations in West and Central Kalimantan, and planned to massively expand those plantations to increase biofuel production. As a consequence, the communities dependent upon the forest for their livelihoods were losing lands, since the government did not recognize ownership of their lands, and economic opportunities for everyone in these areas, including returning displaced, were growing scarer.

Join the GlobalSecurity.org mailing list