11/09/2012, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Lampung, Islamic violence: mob sets fire to houses and buildings

by Mathias Hariyadi
A stand off between two villages, inhabited by natives and migrants of Javanese origin. Clashes sparked by death in mid-October of a thief caught stealing a cow. The relatives seek revenge unleashing a ferocious attack. Police have launched an investigation for attempts to foment interfaith tension.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Fresh episodes of sectarian violence have broken out in Lampung province, on the Indonesian island of Sumatra, where last night the inhabitants of two villages clashed, one Muslim - majority in the country - and the other consisting of Javanese "migrants ". According to an initial toll dozens of houses were set on fire and public buildings damaged by the mob. The clashes, focused yesterday in Central Lampung regency, continue across the region despite the signing of a peace agreement in Kalianda that aimed to put an end sectarian hatred.

The protagonists of the latest episodes of violence villagers of Buyut Udik and Kusumadadi. The former are majority Muslim natives of Lampung, the latter consists of the descendants of Javanese "migrants". As often happens, the assault unleashed on the night was sparked by a fabricated rumour spread by "provocateurs" who have a vested interest in fueling the conflict.

According to reports, on 18 October a Buyut Udik villager allegedly stole a cow owned by a Kusumadadi farmer. In Indonesia, it often happens that a thief or a pickpocket caught stealing will be "punished" on the spot, without courts or trials, and in some cases locals take justice into their own hands, going so far as to kill the criminal.

This is what happened, and the thief was killed by a group of people on the spot. Now, after a few weeks, the criminal's family unleashed a counterattack in response to his death, which ended up with dozens of houses burnt and severe damage in the area.

However, questions remain to which police will try to find an answer: first, why did the retaliation only take place three and a half weeks after the episode. And again, is there someone who has "orchestrated" this massive attack, using the theft as an excuse to hit other targets and unleash a bloody feud. Among the issues at stake, the religious hatred between Muslims and Hindus, combined with ethnic divisions among native Lampung and "migrants" from Java.

The authorities have deployed hundreds of agents in the area, and have cracked down on any further outbreaks of violence. Meanwhile, appeals have been made to the central government in Jakarta, to take serious and effective measures to "prevent the destruction of homes and public buildings." Already at the end of October, Lampung province was the scene of heavy sectarian fighting, triggered by trivial reasons, that caused the deaths of at least 14 people (see AsiaNews 10/30/2012 Lampung: 14 dead and thousands displaced following clashes between natives and Balinese migrants).

The province of Lampung is a territory with a Muslim majority, across which non-native populations also reside, who have different religious beliefs, ethnicities and traditions. The origin of this mixture is the policy of "transmigration" promoted by President Suharto in power between 1966 and 1998, aimed at clearing the most densely populated areas like the island of Java, to "fill" others with a much lower population density. These include the provinces of Bengkulu, Riau, South Sumatra and, of course, Lampung where migrants have established their homes, opened activities and practiced coexistence.

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