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Indonesia minister blames U.S. for Borneo carnage

Madurese settlers
A group of Madurese seek refuge in a makeshift shelter while indigenous Dayaks raze their town  

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Indonesia's defense minister has blamed a U.S. embargo on military ties for hampering the ability of troops to quell ethnic slaughter that killed nearly 500 people in Borneo last month.

Mahfud M.D. said that only two of 26 Hercules transport planes allocated to fly in troops were operational because of the embargo, which dates back to 1999.

"The main obstacle in TNI's (the military) delay in handling the unrest in Sampit was the location, which was difficult to reach by land.

"The United States did not allow the 24 planes which were damaged to be fixed so that the dropping of TNI troops into Sampit was late," he said.

"Only two units were operational, meaning that those two planes were forced to take turns ferrying TNI personnel and dropping food and medical supplies," Mahfud was quoted Monday by the official Antara news agency as saying.

In 1999, Washington cut military ties with Indonesia, which ranged from military training to equipment supply, after pro-Jakarta militias, backed by Indonesian soldiers, razed East Timor following its vote to break from Jakarta's often brutal rule.

The United States has regularly clashed with the outspoken Mahfud over a range of issues since he became defense minister last August.

U.S. embassy officials in Jakarta were not available for comment on Monday.

Witnesses in Sampit, a town in strife-torn Central Kalimantan province, have previously said troops and police stationed there did little to halt attacks by indigenous Dayaks against Madurese settlers.

Fresh fighting between Dayaks and Madurese flared last week in a different part of Central Kalimantan, leaving up to 17 people dead. Officials say the region is now calm.

When former U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen visited Jakarta last September, Mahfud said the U.S. embargo was partly to blame for Indonesia's problems disarming pro-Jakarta Timorese militias that had based themselves in Indonesian West Timor.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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