Gus Dur visits scene of bloody clashes

President Abdurrahman Wahid, blasted by his opponents for downplaying the violence in Central Kalimantan, yesterday toured the riot-torn region to defuse tensions between rival ethnic groups and to bolster his rapidly-eroding standing at home.

Travelling in a tightly-guarded motorcade which included top officials like security chief Bambang Yudhoyono, he made a 10-minute trip around Sampit but did not leave his car.

The town was the scene of the worst clashes between indigenous Dayaks and minority Madurese in the recent convulsion of bloodletting, which left 500 people dead.

After a meeting with provincial officials, Mr Abdurrahman pledged to bring peace between the warring groups. “If it is possible, they should return,” he said, referring to the Madurese refugees. “If it is not, they should be relocated.” Such plans have not gone down well with the Dayaks, who are resentful of Madurese economic dominance. Hundreds of them lined the streets of Palangkaraya, the provincial capital, to jeer the presidential entourage.

Police shot dead one Dayak when they fired on the protesters after the President’s visit.

The government yesterday announced that it would restore Dayak ownership of their lost land. It would also rebuild public facilities, grant scholarships to Dayak students and provide rice to victims of the violence.

Political observers said that such efforts would be a temporary salve. Indeed, the murder of two Dayaks in Madura Island on Wednesday could trigger more revenge attacks.

The President’s visit yesterday was aimed primarily at scoring political points following criticism of his refusal to cut short an overseas tour.

But in Jakarta, demonstrations continued against him as his rivals plotted to topple him.

Noted a senior diplomat: “There has been a jelling of opposition against Gus Dur over the last month. It is beyond doubt for many that he can no longer be President. But the key issue … is how to carry out a transition without bloodshed.”

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