Borneo Plagued by Ethnic Cleansing

Religious Leaders Appeal for Peace

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JAYAPURA, Indonesia, JULY 11, 2001 (ZENIT.org-Fides).- "Ethnic cleansing" continues to rage through central and western Kalimantan, the Indonesian province on the island of Borneo.

Since the outbreak of violence of native Dayaks against Madurese immigrants last February, 500 deaths have been confirmed, the international agency Fides reports.

Thousands of Madureses abandoned their homes in western Kalimantan and arrived at Indonesian government refugee camps. The refugee camps are also attacked by the Dayaks, who are bent on ethnic cleansing. There are some 40,000 displaced people in Pontianak, Kalimantan´s capital.

Meanwhile, attempts at mediation continue. Leaders of the two ethnic groups met in Pontianak early this month and agreed on the urgent need to halt the violence. The religious leaders of the region also appealed to the community, reminding those involved of "the duty to safeguard the dignity of every human being, and to give everyone equal rights." The appeal was signed by Bishop Leo Laba Ladjsar of Jayapura, and Protestant and Muslim leaders.

Condemning the tension and numerous attacks, which have escalated in recent months, the religious leaders called for dialogue and peace.

Fides sources said the main reason for the conflict in Borneo is the contrast between the wealth of the Madureses and the poverty of the Dayaks. The former are industrious and active in trade; the latter rely on nature and the land. In the past, Madurese immigrants did not respect the culture of the native Dayaks. This sparked a hatred that the government has been unable to control.

Ethnic conflicts in 1999 left more than 3,000 Madureses dead, most by decapitation.