130 die in mall fire during riots in Indonesia

Worst violence in the 27 days of campaign

MORE than 130 people were killed – most of them burnt to death in a fire at a shopping mall – during riots on Friday in the South Kalimantan capital of Banjarmasin, site of the worst outburst of violence in Indonesia’s 27-day campaign leading up to the May 29 general election.

Military sources in Banjarmasin told The Straits Times yesterday that rescue workers had found the charred remains of “almost 120 people” on the second floor of the four storey Mitra Plaza.

“We cannot give a concrete figure now because police and rescue workers are still looking for more bodies. We expect the death toll to rise,” an Indonesian Armed Forces (Abri) officer said.

He added that bodies were also found in “two or three other shopping areas”.

But he noted that the death toll in these places was small, numbering less than five so far.

A Reuter report quoted rescue workers as saying that they had brought out at least 130 bodies from within the Mitra Plaza complex.

The Abri officer said that most of the dead in the shopping complex were rioters who were looting the stores.

“They were trapped in the mall by fire started by other rioters,” he said, adding that sales staff and customers had escaped the tragedy because the mall was set ablaze after it had closed for the day.

The mall was one of hundreds of buildings torched during the riots on the last day of campaigning on Friday when thousands of people took to the streets following clashes between rival supporters of the Muslim-based United Development Party (PPP) and the ruling Golkar party.

The riots, which began on Friday morning and continued till late at night, left the city shrouded in darkness following a power blackout.

The city was under curfew imposed by Abri and the situation there was reported to be under control now.

The Antara news agency said that its reporter had seen heaps of “scorched human skulls in three locations of the shopping complex”.

It said that more than 100 people were also injured during the riots.

They were treated for stab wounds and severe burns in three hospitals in Banjarmasin.

Thousands of people burned and looted markets, nine department stores, four banks, three hotels, eight churches, a Buddhist temple, Golkar and government offices, and more than 130 homes.

Antara quoted South Kalimantan police chief, Colonel Sanimbar, as saying that more than 50 people had been detained.

South Kalimantan Governor Gusti Hasan Aman said that “a third party” was behind the riots.

“Their activities were well planned and controlled,” he said on Saturday,”adding that the damage could reach hundreds of billions of rupiah.

Abri spokesman Brigadier-General Slamet Supriadi said that the unrest was “incited by certain people who wanted to see the general election fail”.

AFP cited a Catholic church source as saying that many of the minority Christian and ethnic Chinese seemed to have been targets during the riots.

The military, party leaders and some observers have blamed the violence-ridden campaign period on left-wing “infiltrators”.

Before Friday’s riots, 126 people, including three security officers, had died, mostly in campaign-related traffic accidents.

Previously, most of the election-linked violence had been confined to the main island of Java, primarily between PPP and Golkar supporters.

Posted in Indonesia