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Case Number: 11

Case Mnemonic: KALIMAN

Case Name: Ethnic Conflict in Kalimantan

Case Author: Dianne Linder



1. Abstract

Ethnic violence in West Kalimantan began in late December, 1996 and continued for six weeks. It was reported that over 300 people died during these clashes. There has been a history of ethnic conflict between the Christian Dayaks and the Moslem Madurese for decades. The conflict commenced mainly as a result of the Indonesian Government's "transmigration plan." This program, which began in the 1930's, moved people from the populated islands such as Java (Madura Island), to the less populated islands of Irian Jaya and Kalimantan. Through this program, the Government granted the Madurese deforestation rights in order to clear lands for palm oil cultivation. This conflicted with the local Dayak tribes' traditional way of life, and destroyed a large portion of the rain forests.

2. Description


Ethnic riots broke out in the Indonesian controlled side of Borneo, called Kalimantan, in late December, 1996. It was reported that it began with the fighting of Dayak and Maduran youths over a girl at a concert in the Sanggau Ledo One incident. This added to the conflict after a man from Madura island, which is just off of Java, stabbed two native Borneo Dayak tribesmen. Five people were reported killed and 21 others were missing in that incident. (Xinhua News Agency, 1997) It was reported that an estimated $8.4 million in damage occurred and nearly one thousand homes were destroyed. (Signposts to Asia and the Pacific, 1997) A series of peace agreements were signed following the first ethnic clash in December. However, following the death of a Dayak woman in Pontianak, fresh clashes occurred. A second riot took place in West Kalimantan within a month. During this January 29th riot, a group of about 40 unidentified men (Madurese) went on a burning rampage in Siantan Tengah District of West Kalimantan, which is a Catholic school attended by Dayak pupils. It began when the men attacked the office of the Karya Sosial Pancur Kasih Foundation, burning a truck and two motorcycles. The rioters smashed windows and threw objects at the motorcycles and truck. They also vandalized the office's electrical facilities. This riot was supposedly started by a report of police brutality toward some Moslem religious teachers. The fighting between the Dayaks and the Madurese spread to other parts of the province and since this January 29th riot the two groups clashed. More than 5,000 Madurese have taken refuge in army camps in Sanggau. These ethnic riots were the fifth such ethnic riots to occur in West Kalimantan since 1977.

The government claims that the clashes have taken 300 lives. But the local Christian church leaders have calculated the number of Madurese missing and believe it is in the thousands. (Djalal, 1997) Some journalists have reported gruesome scenes of massacres and mutilated bodies found in the rainforest. (Deutsche Presse-Agentur, 1997) Both parties agree that this is the worst ethnic violence in living memory.

Catholic dormitories received 5,000 Dayak refugees from nearby villages. They were mostly women and children scared of Madurese attacks and Dayak warriors. Many of these warriors are not even from the immediate area but are from the interior and have traveled downstream by the thousands to help their ethnic kin take revenge against the Madurese. Dayak youth even became involved. Some as young as 12, in war paint and tribal dress, "declared war" and went to hunt the Madurese. Graffiti declaring "Madurese go home," was all over town. One man asked, Are you Madurese? I want to drink some Madurese blood." It has been two generations since the last reports of headhunting by the Dayak. It was once the most feared tribe in Southeast Asia and is now one of Indonesia's oldest societies, returning to its brutal traditions. Madurese men are known to take offense quickly. It is normal for them to carry knives. Anthropological accounts claim that this is a result of formerly being headhunters.

Is Peace on the way?

Indonesia's military cracked down on rioters from both groups. The Army has taken control of most of the troubled areas and has set up refuge camps for Madurese settlers. However, the Dayaks clearly control the interior. Beyond the military checkpoints, armed Dayaks patrol the roads and jungles hunting for Madurese survivors. (Djalal, 1997) The army does not intervene or try to disarm them. The Army has maintained the 3,000 troops it deployed in West Kalimantan even though peace has gradually returned. West Kalimantan's Police Chief Colonel Erwin Achman has said that 68 people had been arrested after the riots and 13 would be tried on charges of inciting the riots. Traditional ceremonies to ease tension had been held in several locations between the two groups. (Reuters, 1997)

Dayak chiefs from various tribes and leaders from the Madura community have signed several peace agreements, signaling an end to this conflict. The pledges stated that both groups would respect the laws of the country and lay down their arms. They also would attempt to understand community differences and respect each other's religious beliefs. Furthermore, the Dayak leaders hope to smooth the situation by setting up more meetings with locals from both groups.

History of Ethnic Clashes

According to Indonesian sources, the history of clashes between the Dayaks and the Madurese go back as far as 1983, when many died in clashes in Pontianak. (New Strait Times, 1997)

The Madurese first arrived in West Kalimantan in the 1930's, but the numbers increased during the 1970's. This was the result of the Indonesian government's transmigration plan, which encouraged people to leave more populated islands such as Madura and Java for low populated islands such as Kalimantan. Little consideration was given to the indigenous Dayaks. As the rainforest was cut down and replaced by palm oil and coconut plantations, the indigenous tribes found themselves at the bottom of a complex hierarchy of different groups, unable to continue their traditional patterns of agriculture and slow to adapt new types of employment. (Economist, 1997) The Christian Dayaks now share the low end of the economic ladder with the Madurese. There are currently about 100,000 Madurese in various parts of Kalimantan and two million Dayaks from at least ten separate tribes.

The Dayaks feel that the Madurese have taken their land. The cultural conflict between the two groups has also been a source of the unrest. More importantly are Dayak demands for greater land rights and representation in government. Many analysts see the burning of three plantations in recent years as evidence of the Dayak's growing resentment of the government's appropriation of traditional land, and the forced selling of Dayak land at below market price. (Djalal, 1997) It is an accumulation of several conflicts. There of course is a cultural gap, but mainly it is the dissatisfaction in how Dayak land has been taken away illegally. One Dayak claimed that "the people in Kalimantan were harmonious until the bad people from East Java came." (Reuters, 1997)

The Madurese are bearing the brunt of the Dayak's anger and have watched dozens of their settlements near Pontianak burn to the ground. There are also large numbers of Moslem Javanese migrants who moved into the area as part of the resettlement program, but they have not been a target of the Dayak attacks. West Kalimantan has a large number of ethnic Chinese; they also were not targeted, unlike recent ethnic and religious rioting on Java.

The Transmigration Program

The resettlement program started mainly because of Indonesia's swiftly growing population. The Government started a policy in 1950 that would relocate large amounts of people from the overpopulated islands to those with fewer people. This resettlement scheme has become one the largest voluntary movements of people this century. An estimated 1.5 million families have been moved since 1950, to less populated islands by the government. (Reuters Library Report, 1993) The main areas for settling transmigrants are Kalimantan, Irian Jaya and Lampung. Kalimantan was chosen not only because of its low population density, but also because of its natural resources.

It seemed sensible for the island nation to move people from the overcrowded islands to thinly populated islands where there are fewer people to the square kilometer. A quarter century later the transmigration policy seems far from sensible. Furthermore, the effect on population growth in Java and Bali has been minimal.

The authorities are realizing that the dream of mixing Indonesia's diverse people together can backfire. It has also met criticism from western environmentalists. Critics believe it to be exploitation and an ecological setback, with many shantytowns springing up on the less populated islands. Unwelcome migrants have created tensions and inefficiency is seen by the 26 different government agencies that are involved in the process. The World Bank even ended its direct support for the program in the late 1980's.

Reviews were conducted by the World Bank and showed that many of the criticisms of the NGO's were justified. The projects, such as those promoting farming, were of little economic benefit to the transmigrants. These programs damaged soils and added to deforestation; generated conflicts over land and neglected the rights of indigenous people. The agricultural productivity in the transmigration sites has not been impressive. The Bank notes that these issues were not addressed when the projects were first developed. Furthermore, the environmental damage that has taken place is not the result of ignorance but from inattention, poor follow up and lack of accountability during project implementation. (Signposts to Asia and the Pacific, 1994)

There are stories returning that many migrants are happy and have settled into higher paying jobs. Other reports claim that some transmigrants are not doing well. There have been mixed results. Thousands have been sent to remote areas and expected to try agriculture when they have little experience with farming and none with soil conditions on different islands. One worker for a NGO in Kalimantan has explained, "after they arrive in the area, they get support for two years but the money often disappears in corruption, so fertilizers and equipment cannot be bought." The houses these people are given are terrible, like animal pens, and after five years they will probably have collapsed." (Economist, 1992)

As some Madurese heard negative reports, they hesitated to leave their birthplace. Because migration numbers have been decreasing, the government budgeted $409 million for 1993/94. This was up 19% from 1991/92. Too much official face is involved for the government to admit the failure of the policy. Therefore, it has adapted it. Resettlement is now often linked to plantation projects that guarantee wages for the migrants. The Batu Amper forestry project has over 3,000 people, and seeks to keep equal ratios of transmigrants to Dayaks. Company officials said the ratio of Dayaks was raised from the original 20% to help solve the problems of shifting cultivation. (Reuters Library Report, 1993)

3. Duration: In Progress (1996-now)

4. Location

Continent: Asia

Region: East Asia

Country: Indoesia

5. Actors: Indonesia (Dayak and Madurese

II. Environment Aspects

6. Type of Environmental Problem: Deforestation

Indonesia's Forest Industry

Indonesia has the largest forest reserves in Asia, about 122 million hectares of tropical hardwoods. Kalimantan and Sumatra have 55 million of commercial value. Production grew over 9% during 1969-1980. At the end of 1980 about 500 concessionaires conducted logging operations on 49 million hectares of land; about 70 were foreign owned. (Rainforest Update) Exports also grew by over 49% per year during 1969-1980. The rapid exploitation of the nation's forests in order to provide foreign exchange, to clear new lands for food crops, or to provide firewood, has resulted in concern with forestry management and rehabilitation. It has been suggested that many forest areas of Kalimantan will be completely depleted in 20 to 30 years.

Malaysia has also been accused of overlogging. It has made plans to speed up reforestation and reduce logging. After petroleum, timber is Malaysia's second largest export earner. Malaysia produces about 350 million cubic feet of timber annually and cuts an area of 128,000 acres, according to government figures. Western environmentalists have criticized Malaysia for permitting its rainforests to be cut down. This is especially true in the Borneo State of Sabah and Sarawak, where the livelihood of tribespeople is being threatened.

Thousands of logs cut from primary Indonesian rainforest float daily down the Mahakam River on the way to factories. Indonesia owns more tropical rainforests than any other country but Brazil, and has been using them to earn foreign exchange while the country's oil reserves have decreased. Up to one million hectares of rainforest are cut down every year. (Reuters Library Report, 1987) Most of Indonesia's sawmills and factories were built after Jakarta outlawed log exports in 1980. See TED INDONES case. Miners have also contributed to the destruction of forests as they have exploited gold and diamonds.

There are signs of conservation and reforestation ever since the Indonesian Government began enforcing its environmental laws. The Government has been imposing fines on violators. They have even revoked 70 forestry concessions in the late 1980's. The regulations specify that trees larger than 19.7 inches in diameter may be logged and that the average concessionaire, who holds 864,500 acres may log only 24,700 acres a year, meaning each block is cut only once every 35 years. (New York Times, 1989) New forest police are being hired and trained and aerial photography of forest land is obligatory.


The devastating fire in 1983 destroyed 3.6 million hectares of tropical rain forest. (Reuters Library Report, 1987) This fire burned out of control for nearly 12 months. It was the longest drought in memory that caused the fire to grow. After more than six months without rain, the forest had completely dried out. Billions of tons of coal are underneath the forests on Borneo. Even after the fire dies out, the coal beneath the forest floor is still burning. Nearly $1.5 billion worth of tropical hardwood timber concessions have been destroyed. It will take at least 70 years before any regeneration occurs. The Paris-based International Union for the Conservation of Nature called the fire the worst ecological disaster of the century. (Reuters Library Report, 1987)

The loss of the timber was not the only negative effect of the fire. There was great destruction of wildlife including birds and insects. Valuable seed stocks were also lost, and because of peat deposits, there is now a great danger of flash floods. An ecologist said that the damage from the fire spreads beyond the area destroyed. Vegetation is affected along with the climate and wildlife. The Christian Science Monitor has claimed that the tropical rain forest is an extremely delicate ecosystem and like loosing an arm, the rest of the body is bound to be affected." (Christian Science Monitor, 1984)

This problem became international in nature. The effects of smoke were felt in Singapore and Malaysia, over 1,000 miles away. It was so thick that most local flights had to be stopped. Even with Indonesia's large forests, it has no fire fighting equipment and could no nothing but watch. Local people complained that the Jakarta government did nothing but ask that people go to the local mosque to pray for rain.

The haze that covered the area trapped car exhaust and industrial fumes close to ground level. The cities of Singapore and Kuala Lumpur became unhealthy with hazardous air for more than a month. This problem became political. Western governments did not want to embarrass the Indonesian government and Malaysia kept quite to avoid publicity of its past record. Malaysia and Singapore proposed bringing the problem to ASEAN and Indonesia seemed willing. All three have realized that the haze does not recognize national boundaries. The haze issue was a main feature of the Indonesia-Malaysia Joint Working Committee on Forestry held in November 1985. Yet the discussions over haze has not provided any consensus over what to do. Air patrols could alert neighbors of early air contamination and nearby countries could issue warnings to people with respiratory problems to stay inside. However, Indonesia does not have the planes that would be needed in such an operation.

The exact cause of the 1983 fire may never be known. The Indonesian government blames traditional slash-and-burn farming by the Dayak nomadic tribes for the fires. Yet David Boyce, an Australian agricultural consultant who has spent the last 10 years working among the Dayak, believes that they are the hardest hit victims of deforestation. Non-governmental organizations blame plantation and logging companies. They believe that the fires got out of control from the original purpose of clearing land for palm- oil cultivation. Some foreign diplomats blame the Indonesian forest policy.

The timber companies have also been blamed for not replanting trees, which has left the peat and coal deposits open on top. Most of the private companies have a very poor record of environmental management. They often simply burn vegetation to clear the land or cut trees, leaving behind dried twigs and leaves. Many of the timber companies have not complied with the regulation to have a 500 sq. meter waterhole within every hectare of forestland. The companies have in turn blamed the drought caused by the El Nino effect in the Pacific Ocean. The slash-and-burn policies of the local people were sustainable before the government allowed so many trees to be chopped down. The forest minister, Djamaloedin Soeryohadikoesoemo, said that people opposed to the government's timber-concession programs started the fires. (Economist, 1994) Many of the local Kalimantan tribes are opposed to the transmigration program, under which the migrants were granted timber concessions in Kalimantan.

The Dayak's

Inland Kalimantan is home to many tribes known as the Dayaks. The majority are agricultural and Christian. These tribes have maintained a distinct culture and system of land rights for many centuries.

Environmental organizations such as the Indonesian Environmental Forum (Walhi) have reported that the Dayaks follow a seasonal schedule by which they clear and cultivate land. Walhi has provided information that 60% of the fires were taking place in forests and plantations owned by companies, and another 37% took place in transmigration-timber concession areas. Only 2% of the fires occur in the conservation areas.

The Indonesian government ordered an end to the traditional form of agriculture, which destroyed the Dayak's way of life. The Dayaks have mastered the technique of using fire to clear land over thousands of years. If they had not, the forest would have disappeared long ago.

The Dayaks have a longstanding system of forest management. Their system is based on coexistence and respect for plant diversity, not solely economic value. The slash- and-burn agricultural method is practiced but is waning. One Dayak tribe called the Daret, distinguish three main types of managed forests, each distinct in origin, management priorities, rights of access, and inheritance. The three main ones are called tembawan, tanah adat, and tanah usaha. The tembawan originate as fruit tree gardens. The tenah adat are community forest reserves and the third category of tanah usaha is managed forests. The most important management technique in the three is slash weeding, yet controlled burning is also used. The weeding is done to facilitate fruit harvest. This type of species management is an important element of traditional management systems.

The state and regional government offices do not recognize these management schemes. They only see the slash and burn method and believe that they must teach the Daret management techniques to better exploit their resources.

The Dayaks pick wild plants for food and medicine, hunt game, and use sap for hunting poisons and bark for dying clothes. They gather rattan, incense wood, resins and aloes, edible birds nests, reptile skins, beeswax, and animal innards such as monkey gallbladders to use in medicines. (Reuters Library Report, 1987) See TED BRAZIL case. Their traditional lifestyle depends on the use of forests for food, medicines and other basic needs. Their culture is based on the rainforest. Even though most are Christian, animist beliefs and practices are still important to many Dayaks. The Indonesian government regards the Dayaks and all indigenous tribal people as 'backward' and in need of development. The government also regards the forests as state land, and indigenous people's rights to the land and forest resources are ignored because their is no documentation of legal ownership. Dayaks have now resorted to subsistence farmers to make a living.

David Boyce questions why Jakarta is not paid to protect the forest as is being done in Bolivia. Bolivia agreed to set aside 1.5 million hectares of forest after bankers and environmentalists bought 650,000 dollars of Bolivian debt. (Reuters Library Report, 1987) For Indonesian firms elsewhere see SURINAM case.

The Bentian, a Dayak people of Kalimantan, have been confronting the logging, clearance and takeover of their traditional lands. Both timber estates and transmigration concessions threaten their way of life, which has successfully adapted to the market economy by the production of rattan. Indonesian NGOs have been calling for international support to challenge the abuses.

Several of the Dayak groups in Kalimantan have developed a unique system of rattan cultivation linked to their agricultural system. These rattan systems are income generating, represent biodiversity conservation, and are an example of market production.

In 1981, Georgia Pacific, which is one of the largest American timber companies, built a logging camp on some of the Bentian Dayak lands. They resettled villagers and destroyed ancient grave sites and rattan fruit gardens during construction, which came close to igniting a conflict. The company built a corridor logging road parallel to the Lawa River, the main transportation and communication for the area. Instead of building feeder streams to the river, they dammed all of the feeder streams for the complete length of the road. This resulted in a reduction of water flow to the Lawa and created malarial swamps on the other side of the road. Due to an unsatisfactory business climate, Georgia Pacific pulled out of Indonesia in the mid-1980's, yet concessions were taken over by another timber tycoon. (Rainforest Update)

In attempt to secure the rest of their ancestral lands, the Bentian Dayaks have been petitioning the Indonesian government since 1986, completely without results. In 1993, a new concession holder, PT Kalhold/Kalimanis, sent crews to prepare for a new transmigration settlement and an "industrial forest plantation." The bulldozers destroyed 10,000 rattan clumps, 2,000 fruit trees and grave markers were bulldozed and burned and the bones of the dead were scattered over the charred ground. (Rainforest Update)

The Bentian Dayaks have protested and requested that the violations of human rights and environmental destruction stop. As a result of their protests, they have had increased threats and intimidation from the Indonesian government officials and security forces. On March 29, 1994, a Bentian Dayak leader was interrogated for 12 hours in attempt to force him to sign letters voiding ancestral rights.

Another incident occurred in August of 1995. A tribe forced tractors to stop at the edge of the last bit of forest remaining to them and then confiscated the drivers' keys. Such protests are increasing in frequency.

The Bentian Dayak's demands to the government are as follows:

  1. Recognition of the Bentian land rights.
  2. Return of the (partially bulldozed) lands of Jelmu Sibak village (Jato Rempangan) to the Bentian people.
  3. Levy fines against logging companies and industrial forest plantations, which have damaged Bentian lands and rattan and fruit gardens.
  4. Stop the transmigration/industrial forest plantation projects on Bentian lands immediately. (Rainforest Update)
This is just one of the efforts that has been made to end the takeover of indigenous land and increase recognition of their rights.

7. Type of Habitat: Tropical

8. Act and Harm Sites:

Act Site       Harm Site           Example

Egypt          Sudan               Plans for diversion of the Nile

III. Conflict Aspects

9. Type of Conflict

10. Level of Conflict

11. Fatality Level of Dispute (military and civilian fatalities)

III. Environment and Conflict Overlap

12. Environment-Conflict Link and Dynamics:

Causal Diagram

13. Level of Strategic Interest: State

The government of Indonesia has acknowledged that some positive actions need to be taken in regards to the rain forests. President Suharto decreed that from April 1st of 1995, clearing forests by fire was to be banned. He claims that many forests are being cut illegally and that this must stop. Yet many agree that Indonesia suffers from the wrong kind of legal logging. The replanting that occurs after the old forest is ripped out is often of fast-growing trees that exhaust the land after two or three harvests.

Indonesia already has forestry laws on paper but the problem lies with enforcement. The timber industry accounts for 7% of GDP and 20% of the country's exports. There is reluctance in meddling with an economic winner. Yet even though the nation's economic performance has brought prosperity to some, analysts say that the effects have not trickled down to the poor. Beyond this problem is that of economic gaps.

Foreign firms have begun to notice Indonesia's success. Koreans, Australians, and Malaysian's have all signed contracts for a natural gas plant, a gold mine and cement plant. Managing them well is Kalimantan's greatest future challenge.

14. Outcome of Dispute: Stalemate

IV. Related Information and Sources

15. Related ICE and TED Cases

a) ICE