5 die with no end in sight
in Tarakan ethnic clashes

Ethnic clashes continued to flare up in Tarakan, East Kalimantan, on Wednesday, killing five people and injuring six since they first erupted on Sunday.

The incident, with rival groups setting several houses and shops ablaze, allegedly started after a man from the native Tarakan tribe of Tidung died after being assaulted by a group of ethnic Bugis men from Sulawesi.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono instructed officials to swiftly resolve the situation to prevent a repeat of the 2001 ethnic clashes in Sampit, Central Kalimantan, between Dayak natives and ethnic Madurese, which claimed many lives. “I hope we don’t have a repeat of [the Sampit incident]. All officials must go to the scene and take strong steps” to resolve the situation, Yudhoyono was quoted as saying at his office Wednesday by Antara news agency.

The situation in Tarakan, located two hours by air from provincial capital Balikpapan, remains tense, with most schools and offices as well as markets and shopping malls closed.

Several main roads were deserted, while one of the rival groups has blocked access to the airport and seaport since Tuesday morning, when the clashes flared up and quickly spread up to other parts of the city.

“We’re being told not to leave our houses. I’ve been inside with my family since Monday,” Dina Yusnita, a resident of Sebengkok in Tarakan, said.

Another resident, Nanda, said the fresh clashes on Tuesday took place in the outskirts of the city.
“By [Wednesday] morning the fighting had spread to Selimut Dalam, closer to the city center,” he told Antara.

Many residents have fled to safety, seeking shelter at police and military stations while some have left town.

Nurdin Ali, a South Sulawesi native who has lived in Tarakan for 30 years, took all 13 members of his family back home to Makassar because of the incident.

The fish farmer said he returned home fearing for the safety of his family. “The situation is scary. Tempers are running high, there is no longer a sense of brotherhood,” he said at Makassar’s Sultan Hasanuddin International Airport on Wednesday.

National Police chief Gen. Bambang Hendarso Danuri said two battalions, one each from the police Mobile Brigade and the Indonesian Military (TNI), have been deployed to Tarakan.

“We will work with community leaders to ensure that people aren’t on edge,” Bambang said at the House of Representatives in Jakarta on Wednesday, adding that the riot had broken out over a trivial event — an act of bullying.

“We do not need any more violence.”

East Kalimantan Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Antonius Wisnu Sutirta said police were working with community leaders in Tarakan to prevent the clashes from spreading further.

He identified the five killed as Abdullah Salim, who passed away on Sunday night, Musyidul Armin and Bugut, who died on Tuesday night, and Iwan and Syamsul, who died Wednesday morning. Six others were injured in the clashes, suffering slash wounds to their hands and legs.

East Kalimantan Governor Awang Faroek Ishak, who arrived in Tarakan to speak with community leaders, said the clashes were not related to inter-ethnic rivalries. “This is fueled purely by criminal motives,” he told Antara.

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