Indonesia's reputation as a peace-loving nation has come under scrutiny after three days of communal conflict in South Lampung, which claimed 14 lives and displaced hundreds more.The recent clash has endangered notions of religious harmony that the government has been promoting worldwide. It also offers validation of a recent survey said that there has been a growing intolerance of people of different faiths in Indonesia.
This was not the first dispute between local residents of the predominantly Muslim village of Agom and Balinese Hindus relocated to neighbouring Balinuraga village under a government transmigration programme. However, this dispute was the most serious in terms of damage done, the cost in human lives and the scope of subsequent humanitarian problems.
Although the authorities have restored order and brokered a truce between the villages, there is no guarantee that the violence will not recur in the future. The most recent clash came only nine months after the leaders signed a previous peace pact.
What happened in Lampung - a major destination of internal resettlement programmes since the 19th century, when the nation was colonised by the Netherlands - evokes the continued outbreaks of ethnic violence between indigenous Dayak people of central Kalimantan and people transmigrated from Madura, and the recurring low-level violence between people transmigrated from Java to Papua and the indigenous residents of that province.
Indonesia's transmigration programme has been aimed at reducing the demographic burden of Java and other densely populated regions. It bears the noble goal of developing and enriching outlying regions and their peoples. But in some, if not many, cases, resettlement has led to resentment, as has happened in South Lampung.
As Agrarian Reform Consortium (KPA) executive Iwan Nurdin has said, the government's resettlement programme tends to ignore the interests and welfare of local residents. Infrastructure, land and facilities, as well as access to education and healthcare, are dedicated to migrants - a policy which very much makes sense, as people need incentives to join the programme.
Of course, the special treatment offered to migrants helps them to dominate the local economy and perhaps the local politics. It is therefore only a matter of time before social envy explodes into massive acts of violence. It may only take an argument over a trivial issue to trigger a clash, as happened in South Lampung, when two local women were assaulted.
A feeling of being sidelined has apparently been brewing among the indigenous residents of Papua, where the socio-economic gap between migrants and native people has been huge. A failure to give the province's indigenous people a fair share of Papua's natural resources has been the root cause of separatism there.
The rage in Lampung, as well as similar ethnic conflicts in the past, is something that the government must remember when dealing with local people and the fallout from the resettlement programme.
Now that the government has launched its Master Plan for the Expansion and Acceleration of Indonesian Economic Growth (MP3I), hundreds of thousands - and perhaps millions - will have to be resettled to fill jobs in new growth centres across the country. If not handled with care, the project risks alienating and impoverishing local residents, which is counter to the goals of the programme.
Sending police and troops to conflict areas like South Lampung will definitely keep the peace, but for how long? The longer they stay the more insecurity increases.
To sustain peace we need to promote mutual respect and tolerance, which will mean nothing without socio-economic justice.
Source: The Nation Thailand, The Jakarta Post
Asia News Network December 8, 2012 1:00 am