Human-rights panel probes poll riots in Kalimantan

INDONESIA’S National Human Rights Commission has despatched a fact-finding team to probe last Friday’s riots in the South Kalimantan capital of Banjarmasin, site of the worst outbreak of violence in Indonesia’s 27-day election campaign.

“Two of our members have been sent to Banjarmasin to conduct investigations into the unrest,” the Antara news agency yesterday quoted a commission member A. Baramuli as saying.

He said that they would be collecting information on the circumstances leading to the disturbances and also investigating whether “infiltrators” had caused the riots.

“A lot of people were killed during the riots. We want to find out who were responsible for their deaths,” he said.

More than 120 people were burnt to death in the four-storey Mitra Plaza shopping centre during the riots in Banjarmasin. The mall was one of the hundreds of buildings torched during the unrest.

Police spokesman Brigadier-General Nurfaizi said yesterday that the death toll stood at 123 currently, with all but two of the bodies found in the mall.

He said most of the people killed in Mitra Plaza were looters. “They were trapped and got burned inside,” he said.

Electronic goods and “sharp weapons” were found near the charred bodies of some of the victims on the second floor of the shopping centre, he said.

The human-rights commission’s deputy chairman, Mr Marzuki Darusman, said that although the government had so far handled the case well, more information was still needed on the causes for the violence.

The violence occurred on the last day of campaigning and followed clashes between rival supporters of the Muslim-based United Development Party and the ruling Golkar party on the last day of campaigning.

The rioters burned and looted supermarkets, department stores, banks, hotels, churches, Golkar and government offices, and more than 130 houses.

Police chief Lieutenant-General Dibyo Widodo said that 181 people had been detained so far for questioning on suspicion of being involved in the riots.

“Those who incited the riots were not party supporters but criminals,” he said.

The region’s military commander, Major-General Namuri Anoem, said yesterday that left-wing intellectuals could have been behind the riots.

He denied that the military was slow to anticipate the unrest. “The security forces were despatched immediately once we heard there were problems. We are still on alert,” he said.

An AFP report yesterday said that the situation in Banjarmasin remained tense.

It quoted residents as saying that shops had resumed their businesses with their front shutters partially opened.

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