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INDONESIA: The Killing Fields of West Kalimantan

by Sinapan Samydorai



Population: 200 Million
Religion : 90 percent are Muslims

West Kalimantan

Population: Nine million (Chinese, Malays, Bugis from South Sulawesi, Javanese and migrants from Madura)
Dayaks: 40 percent (mostly Catholics, marginalized and poor; the majority live in the rural areas.)


Population: 500,000
Dayaks: 2 percent (mostly Catholics, marginalized and poor; a minority live in the city.)


Ethnic Chinese, mostly Christian traders, are wealthier than the majority of Muslims.

The Dayaks have lived peace-fully with all the incoming eth-nic groups except the migrants from Madura. There have been clashes since the 1950s, but the recent violence is the worst. Dayaks, who are mostly Catholics, have destroyed property belonging to Muslim Madurese in the villages. Both the Dayaks and Madurese are marginalized, poor and compete for the same jobs, but the Madurese are treated favourably by the local police and authorities. The recent riots by the Dayaks are due to pent-up frustrations with the migrant influx.


December 1996: Initially the ethnic conflict between the indigenous Dayaks and migrants from Madura Island occurred in the Sanggu-Ledo District, about 100 kilometers north of the provincial capital Pontianak, West Kalimantan. The Dayaks rioted over the failure of local police to prosecute a Maduran man accused of raping a Dayak woman. The Dayaks later killed the Maduran man, inciting violent retaliations and provincewide conflict. The Dayaks of West Kalimantan have more confidence in adat, their own traditional tribal laws, than in the national police and justice system. The Dayaks also complain that migrant workers receive preferential treatment by local officials and are rarely prosecuted for breaking the law. The attacks are being waged using traditional rules: a life for a life. An offense against an individual is an offense against the whole tribe.

28 January 1997: In Pontianak, a Catholic school attended by Dayak children was attacked and set on fire. In retaliation, Dayak youths attacked the Madurese, leading to massive violent clashes.

5 February 1997: Military reinforcements landed overnight in West Kalimantan. More then 3,000 troops were flown into the region following the outbreak of riots. The Indonesian military conducted a harsh crackdown leading to scores of deaths to restore order with force. The military arrested 86 people. Of those detained, 12 were being questioned by the military while the rest were in police detention.

6 February 1997: The conflict escalated into violent, massive clashes. In Menjalin parish in Pontianak, the Catholic dormitory received 5,000 Dayak refugees from neighbouring villages. The refugees were mostly women and children scared of Madurese attacks. The Dayaks are only 2 percent of the population in Pontianak. The Dayak refugees sought protection from Madurese revenge.

18 February 1997: Clashes erupted in Sungai Kunyit about 60 kilometers northwest of the provincial capital of Pontianak. Dayak warriors looted more than 100 houses and stores belonging to the Madurese. The police estimated that 100 to 300 people may have died in the riots.

Five thousand Dayak warriors rampaged through the town and attacked the villages of Merabu, Kampung Jawa and Jirak, plus four transmigration sites. These Dayak warriors from the forest hinterland killed Madurese around the area of Pontianak, one of the three regions where the killings occurred. Christian church leaders claim the number of Madurese missing or dead is in the thousands and that the Dayak casualties, shot by troops, are less than 200. More than 1,000 displaced people fled the district, and some are in refugee camps controlled by the military. The damage caused is estimated to be in the amount of US.4 million, including the destruction of nearly 1,000 homes.

Dayaks, armed with spears and machetes, attacked a road block in Anjungan guarded by the military, resulting in the killing of one soldier. The troops shot and killed about 20 Dayaks. Areas north of Anjungan, 55 kilometers northeast of Pontianak, and east of Mandor, 70 kilometers north of Pontianak, were still under Dayak control with minimal military presence. There were Dayak checkpoints on roads leading to Ngabang, 81 kilometers east of Mandor. About one million Dayaks in an act of solidarity may continue to attack the Madurese and even the military if they block their path.

It is alleged and widely believed that the army itself has killed large numbers of Dayaks - killings it now wants to cover up.

Background Information

In the 1930s, the Madurese began arriving in West Kalimantan. Under the government’s transmigration program in the 1970s, the Madurese population sharply increased; they were marginalized and poor.

Most of the transmigrants are Muslims from Java or Madura with no links to the Catholic Dayaks. New transmigrants work in the plantations - rubber, palm oil, coconut, timber - and primary industry.

In recent decades, logging and intense mining has destroyed the forest and the livelihood of the Dayaks. The government’s development program encourages investment in plantations, timber factories, mining and other private enterprises which provide employment, but land disputes have increased. The National Human Rights Commission established in 1993 has received numerous pleas from villagers and indigenous peoples struggling for their land rights. The Indonesian political system does not allow space for any alternative groups or local parties to develop in the rural areas. Often the displaced people find themselves facing the bureaucracy of the ruling Golkar Party. When the development projects are not successful, the ruling party is not willing to take the responsibility to resolve the issues with the local people and the investors. The Golkar Party wins the votes of the rural people, however, by campaigning on the basis that the various development projects or enterprises will contribute to the indigenous communities’ economic growth.

In the district of Kelam, only three years ago, bulldozers of the logging contractors cleared a path leading into the village. When the bulldozers arrived, three-quarters of the people were scared. They could not understand how they would survive without the trees. The Indonesian government offered basic wooden cottages nearby on the edge of a rubber plantation. The government’s current target is to permanently resettle 20,000 families per year. Many Dayaks relocate and become squatters on the edges of towns filling the dirty, dangerous and low-paying jobs in the plywood factories.

Impact of Timber Logging and Forestry

Kalimantan has been hit hard by logging and the growth of timber estates for the pulp and wood industries. Dayaks are fighting against the appropriation of their lands and the destruction of their livelihoods.

Three representatives from the village of Menamang in Kutai District visited Jakarta in January 1996 to present their case to the National Human Rights Commission. A joint venture company of PT Sure Raya Wahana, PT Sumalindo Lestari Jaya and the state-owned forestry company Inhutani 1, intend to develop a 198,000- hectare timber plantation on their traditional land. The dispute began in 1992 when PT Surya Hutani Jaya grabbed 1,663 hectares of traditional lands belonging to 294 villagers. Crops, fruit trees and rattan cultivated by the villagers were destroyed. The security forces tortured 14 of the local people. Awang Ateh, one of the three who met the National Human Rights Commission, described how he had been beaten and burned with a cigarette after refusing to accept compensation for land taken by the timber plantation company. First of al, compensation was never paid while forged documents were used to claim that the villagers had accepted and received compensation. After an investigation, the district authorities in Kutai discovered that the compensation claims were justified. Some villagers accepted the compensation, but those who refused were often subjected to torture by the security forces.

In East Kalimantan, the Bentian Dayaks in the village of Jelmu Sibak are struggling against PT Kahold Utama (PT Hutan Mahligai) which is occupying an area of more than 1,600 hectares of their land to develop a timber estate with transmigration labour. The company destroyed crops, forest resources (including honey trees) and rattans cultivated by the Bentian. Ancestral graves were also destroyed, and local water sourses disrupted by the company’s activities. In 1995, the Bentians from Jelmu Sibak in Kutai District, accompanied by NGO representatives, presented their case to local authorities, ministers in Jakarta and the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM). They appealed to the commission to investigate their dispute which centres on the violation of traditional (adat) rights belonging to 72 families. In May 1996, a Bentian representative, Nyeloi Adi, visited Jakarta to lodge complaints with the Forestry and Transmigration ministries over the illegal occupation of Bentian lands by the contractor. The commission’s powers to help the Bentian, however, may be limited as Bob Hasan, the close associate of President Suharto, owns the company PT Kahold Utama.

In West Kalimantan, indigenous peoples are struggling to defend their customary land against commercial interests. PT Nityasa Idola started clearing land for a pulpwood plantation on a 120-hectare area belonging to Dayak families in the village of Belimbing in Sambas District in early 1995. The villagers were told not to work on their fields as the land had been bought by PT Nityasa Idola. Villagers were also threatened with jail if they trespassed. The villagers' attempts to solve the dispute through official channels were ignored. In November 1995, the villagers burned down the company’s seedling camp. This was the third such attack against timber estate developers in the area in the past couple of years.

Causes of Conflict

The Dayaks are now facing the destruction of their customary land and forest. Many are facing relocation from their traditional places. The Indonesian govermnent in practice does not accept the rights of indigenous people to their customary land and natural resources. Large areas of tribal terrritory are being converted into timber, rubber and palm oil estates, or are being allocated to foreign mining companies. The tribal lands are being developed as plantations and mines with transmigrant labour. In addition, logging concession lands are still reserved for logging. These development programmes seriously threaten the indigenous people since the programmes are linked with transmigration. The transmigrants and their families cultivate new lands with modern planting skills to plant rice, candlenut (kemiri) or rubber trees. This grabbing of customary lands further reduces the reserve land for the indigenous people.

The Christian Dayaks are being displaced from their land and are unable to continue their subsistence farming and pig-raising. They have no alternative skills and have difficulties finding new jobs. The Dayaks are living in poverty. The Madurese compete with the Dayaks for jobs as both the communities are at the bottom of the economic ladder. The Islamic Madurese are able to gain jobs on the plantations and grow crops, but the Madurese have settled on the Dayaks’ land and have better access to political power. The police also treat the Madurese favourably in disputes and are seldom punished for past attacks on the Dayaks. Both the Dayaks and the Madurese live in the same neighbourhoods in large areas of the territory.

Political and economic discontent ignited the recent conflicts, not merely cultural differences, as the Dayaks are unable to maintain their livelihood or compete with the migrant Madurese. The Dayaks are demanding the recognition of their land rights and representation in the government. The burning of three plantations in recent years shows the Dayaks’ growing resentment of the government’s appropriation of traditional land and the forced selling of Dayak land at below market price.

Key Issues Faced by Indigenous Tribes

SKEPHIs-Indonesia Third World Forum (TWF) research indicates that indigenous tribes face at least 15 issues:

1. Development and resettlement of indigenous people;

2. Lack of infrastructure for the indigenous people;

3. Damage to habitat and the environment of the traditional community;

4. Relocation and land grabbing from the traditional community;

5. Absence of education or access to information for the traditional community;

6. Issues of interdependence, poverty and economics;

7. Victims of exploitation and the criminality of outsiders;

8. Issues of human settlement due to a narrowing area of responsibility;

9. Issues of discrimination and women’s emancipation among the indigenous people;

10.The presence of threats to the traditional community’s biological diversity;

11.Absence of political and legal acknowledgment of the existence of the indigenous community;

12.Threats to the indigenous community’s cultural elements, such as its values, language, arts, handicrafts and other traditional cultural elements;

13. Violation of the community’s intellectual property rights in the form of artwork duplications, stealing of genes and unpaid royalties;

14.Health issues that have arisen as a consequence of changes in the ecosystem and a lack of facilities; and

15.The presence of the transmigration program.

Peace Process

The Indonesian Human Rights Commission’s secretary-general, Baharuddin Lopa, reports that reconciliation efforts need to reach the village level where most violence has occurred. He recommends that further peace efforts reach the village level.

 25 February 1997: Dayak and Madurese community elders declared a peace pact in Pontianak to prevent further unrest, but it failed to stop the clashes in Sungai Kunyit. The ceremony for peace involved about 1,000 people, including the Dayak and Madurese communities, local government and military leaders. A declaration was read in which community leaders from the various ethnic groups, including the Dayak and Madurese, pledged to work for peace. The ceremony had no impact on the fighting parties at the village level.

Without the government’s recognition of the economic and political disparity behind the ethnic conflict, the peace proposals were futile. The government should recognize the demands of the Dayaks for customary land rights and representation in the government. The Indonesian government needs to address the underlying long-term causes of the tension between the indigenous people and settlers.


The Minister of Forestry, Djamaludin Suryohadikusumo, disclosed that the disturbances which occurred in West Kalimantan had an impact on the life of the community causing a decrease in foodstuffs and price increases for various essential needs. The industrial tree forests (HTI) and forest exploitation rights (HPH) activities ran as usual but with some disturbances. The forestry minister said that greater efforts to mobilize the traditional communities in the forest region must be made so that they may have better access to natural resources or access to forest regions, facilities for obtaining credit and plants. Most of the rural Dayaks barely make ends meet. They have no education and have few skills. To sell their forest produce, the rural Dayaks travel far, and sometimes the income from their sales is only sufficient to cover their transportation costs.

Call for a Rights Body

In January 1997, Dayak leaders in central Kalimantan, meeting in the capital Palangkaraya, called on the government to establish an institution to protect the land rights of indigenous people. The Dayak communities of Central Kalimantan seek to protect their rights as attempts to proceed with a new million hectare megaproject continue.

Action Requested

Write polite letters or faxes calling for an international investigation into the disturbances and ask that human rights NGOs be allowed to visit the area. Ask too that the customary land rights of the Dayaks be recognized, that an institution to protect the land rights of indigenous people be established and that more representation of the indigenous population be permitted in the local government. It is also essential to request that the Indonesian government ratify and recognize Conventions 107 and 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) on the "Protection and Integration of Indigenous and Other Tribal and Semitribal Populations in Independent Countries." Please send your letters and faxes to:

1. President Suharto

Istana Merdeka
Jakarta 10110, Indonesia

2. Gov. H. A. Aswin

West Kalimantan Province
Jl. A. Yani
Pontianak, West Kalimantan, Indonesia
Telephone: (62) 5-613-6000

3. Soesilo Soedarman

Minister for Political and
Security Affairs
Jl. Merdeka Barat No. 15
Jakarta 10110, Indonesia
Fax: (62) 21-345-0918

4. The diplomatic representative from Indonesia accredited to your country.

Posted on 2001-08-14
Asian Human Rights Commission

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