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Wahid visits massacre island

Wahid departs forKalimantan
Wahid on his way to bloody Kalimantan province  

PALANGKARAYA, Indonesia -- Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid arrived in the province of Kalimantan 20 minutes overdue -- but his critics say he is actually two weeks too late.

In that time, more than 400 people have been killed in this Indonesian part of Borneo as indigenous Dayaks turned on immigrants from Madura island.

A series of savage conflicts have plagued Indonesia since Suharto, the despot who ruled the country for three decades, was forced from power in 1998.

Analysts say the failure of the security forces to stem the massacres in Indonesian Borneo illustrates how powerless they have become and warn that more violence is likely.

One of Indonesia's most powerful army units now says it is ready to take on the rebels in the violence-racked province of Aceh despite a ceasefire between security forces and the guerrillas.

Troops at ready

Local media on Thursday reported head of the army strategic reserves command, Kostrad, saying his troops were ready to "quell" the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels, if ordered to do so by the chief of Indonesia's military.

Ryacudu's comments follow a fresh clash between security forces and guerrillas in the past week and are likely to stoke more tension in the province.

Wahid must stem violence throughout the country if he is to reain his shaky 16-month hold on power.

He arrived in Palangkaraya, the Central Kalimantan capital, with a large entourage, including his senior security minister, the defense minister, and the military chief.

At the airport he told local authorities that the Madurese refugees who survived Dayak massacres should be returned to their homes in Central Kalimantan province if possible and if not, they should be relocated.

Wahid also said there needed to be a human rights investigation in Sampit, where most of the killings took place, and said the Madurese homes that were torched still belonged to the Madurese. The government would take caretaker role, he said.

He flew from Palangkaraya to Sampitand was due to meet Dayak leaders. Likely to be at the top of the president's agenda is whether the future safety of the settlers can be guaranteed.

The bloodletting in Central Kalimantan, where Dayak tribesmen went on a rampage, killing and beheading Madurese settlers, has forced more than 50,000 settlers to flee the province.

The official death toll stands at over 400 but Dayak leaders -- who have given the Madurese the ultimatum of quit the province or be killed -- put the number killed at close to 3,000.

Political analyst Kusnanto Anggoro from the Centre of Strategic and International Studies says: "Such situations (as the Kaliamantan killings) will keep on coming about as long as we do not have any clear direction."

The start of changes came a year ago when the police were split from the armed forces and given the responsibility quelling internal conflicts in the vast archipelago -- a job that for decades was the domain of the once omnipotent and often brutal army.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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