Mob violence in E. Java ‘instigated by radicals’


INDONESIA’S largest Muslim organisation said yesterday that the mob violence in East Java was instigated by a radical group aiming to scare and drive out the ethnic Chinese minority from the country.

Mr Choirul Anam, youth leader of the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) in East Java, said that preliminary findings of an investigation by his organisation into the disturbances in the Jember regency showed that the attacks on Chinese-owned property were “carefully planned by trained individuals”.

“There is no indication that the riots are spontaneous,” he told The Straits Times. “What we do know so far is that there were people instigating the masses to attack everything Chinese and those close to them.”

In the past few weeks, ethnic Chinese-owned shops and houses in Jember, 150 km from the East Java capital of Surabaya, have suffered attacks from mobs of up to 200 people. Many properties were set on fire.

The rioters have also targeted Muslim leaders accusing them of supporting the Indonesian-Chinese traders.

Many stores have closed in recent days amid rumours of more violence with many Chinese fleeing the second largest province in the country.

A member of the Indonesian Legal Aid Bureau in Surabaya said that the riots were sparked off by acute food shortages and high unemployment in Jember and several other districts which made it easier for people in these areas to be “manipulated by groups with a hidden agenda”.

“The problem will worsen because the economy shows no signs of improvement,” said the source.

Mr Anam noted that Jember was rarely affected by race riots before because the Chinese there had assimilated with local culture.

In other parts of East Java, there was still a sense that the Chinese were responsible for the economic crisis. They were
perceived as “robbers who have too much control of the economy”.

“The riots are clearly the work of a radical group who do not like the Chinese,” he said, adding that “the local media has not exposed fully the gravity of the problem on the ground”.

He disclosed that they would release a statement on Friday to condemn the violence and urge political restraint in the face of the country’s deepening crisis.

He said NU and other religious groups were encouraging Chinese businessmen to take the lead in distributing staples to the public to counter perception that they are not doing anything to avert the food shortages.

“This will not put an end to the problems but it will make it much more difficult for the rioters to play on people’s sentiments,” he said.

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