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Q & A: Why ethnic slaughter has struck Indonesia

CNN's Atika Shubert explains the causes behind Indonesia's on-going ethic conflict in Kalimantan:

Q: Have the security forces brought the situation under control?

Shubert: They are certainly fanning out in the area. They're concentrating on three main towns, Palangkaraya, the provincial capital, another town in the south, and Sampit, which is the center of the violence. And it does seem that the violence is subsiding, but perhaps less, because the situation is under control than the Dayaks have driven out all the Madurese settlers. In fact the Dayak leaders have been proclaiming victory. They say that as long as the Madurese stay out of the area of the violence. This may not be what the police have hoped for, so certainly it should mean a subsiding of violence.

Q: Who are the Dayaks and who are the Madurese? Where are the Madurese from? Shubert: The Dayaks are the indigenous people of Kalimantan, and the Madurese are the settlers from the island of Madura, which is just off the coast of East Java. They were transplanted to the area by the government as part of a resettlement program, the objective of which is to thin out the overpopulated areas of Indonesia, particularly Madura and Java.

So these Madurese were brought into Kalimantan as part of that program, as also to boost the industry of the area. However the government has been accused of neglecting the indigenous culture such as the Dayak's, particularly because that the Madurese have become commercially successful, there's a lot of resentment that's built up between the Dayak's and the Madurese. And this results in frequent violence. What we've seen this week has been some of the worst violence we've seen over the years.

Q: So how long has this conflict been going for? Shubert: The trans-migration program started in the early seventies, and has continued for decades. This problem has lasted for as long as the Madurese settlers have been coming into the area, and will continue to be a problem. Even as many Madurese flee, there're still Madurees who grew up in Kalimantan and was born there, and continue to live there. So the government will have to consider how it wants to start the healing process between the two groups, instead of taking out the Madurese from Kalimantan.

Q: Are the Dayaks head hunters? Shubert: Traditionally the Dayaks were considered head hunters. However, the time when the Christian missionaries came in, the practice was discouraged and has been suppressed for a long time. In cases like this, when conflicts do arise between the Dayaks and another ethnic group, there are occasions when the fighting resulted in some decapitation.

It's a little unclear whether or not these killings follow the same traditional rites that the Dayaks used to have.

Q: Is Wahid still away? Given the political problems he has to face himself, is this situation likely to bring the country into a crisis?

Shubert: Certainly the situation in Kalimantan has prompted a lot of President Wahid's critics to lambaste him for not pay more attention to the problem. They say that he should come back to the country earlier to focus on these critical national emergencies. However, the president has responded that he is pay attention to the problem. He did order special forces into the region. And he says that he's already talked to chief security minister Bambang Yudhyono who did not recommend him that he cut his trip early.

So the president says he will finish his two-week tour in the Middle East, and he will come home on schedule. However this isn't going well with his critics who say that in addition to his political problem he now has a security crisis in Kalimantan.

Q: How about other ethnic conflicts throughout Indonesia? Shubert: The conflict in Indonesia is the latest flare-up. There is, of course, the religious on Maluku island. And one of the things that the conflict in Kalimantan shows is that the security troops in Indonesia are over stretched. And they're really demoralized after fighting in various conflicts including two separatist insurgences and the religious conflict in Maluku.

So the more these conflicts bubble up as Indonesia's political turmoil goes on, the less able the security forces are to handle these conflicts.

Q: How differently is Wahid handling these conflicts from Suharto? Shubert: One of the reasons why we didn't see many of these conflicts under the Soharto regime is that the Suharto government really ruled these areas with an iron fist. Any sort of conflicts that had any indication that raised ethnic or even religious conflict, he immediately shut down by the military that has a very strong grip on these areas.

And one of the things that we're seeing since the fall of Suharto is a lessening of that grip. And as a result, more and more of these conflicts bubble to the surface. And what appears to be the frequent fighting may really just be the lifting of the lid of these problems.

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