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Wahid Borneo visit ends in gunfire

PALANGKARAYA, Indonesia — Police clashed with indigenous Dayak protesters during a visit by Indonesia's president to Borneo Island, trying to bring peace after ethnic bloodshed that killed hundreds.

Several hundred Dayaks gathered outside the provincial governor's office as President Abdurrahman Wahid met inside with the governor. After Wahid left in his motorcade, some protesters threw stones at police.

Police opened fire with what officials said were warning shots. At least six people were wounded, witnesses and ambulance workers said. Officials at a hospital said three men were being treated for bullet wounds.

Wahid came to Central Kalimantan province promising to take steps to bring peace after Dayaks went on a rampage last month that left more than 450 people dead — mostly settlers from the Indonesian island of Madura. Some 70,000 people, mostly Madurese, were evacuated from Borneo. Wahid has been heavily criticized for his handling of the bloodshed.

Earlier, when Wahid's motorcade arrived at the governor's office, the crowd of some 300 Dayaks jeered him, many saying they would go to war to keep Central Kalimantan province free of settlers.

"We will not give one inch of our land back," said Karliansyah, who like many Indonesians only uses one name. "We are ready to cut off their heads."

After leaving the governor, Wahid flew to the town of Sampit, the scene of some of the worst violence. He toured the town for 10 minutes, staying in his vehicle.

Wahid said the government would try to reconcile the sides with the goal of repatriating the tens of thousands of people who fled. "If it is possible, they should return," Wahid said. "If it is not, they should be relocated." He said earlier he would consider returning traditional lands to the Dayaks.

The Dayaks, mostly Christians and animists, and the mostly Muslim Madurese have often had frictions, competing for jobs, land and education. The Madurese were brought to Borneo in a government program to reduce crowding on Madura.

Many of the victims were beheaded or mutilated in the slaughter that began Feb. 18. Security forces did little to stop the killing.

Wahid was heavily criticized for going on a 15-day visit to the Middle East and Africa despite the bloodshed. Calls for his dismissal intensified during his absence.

Wahid said late Wednesday that if he stepped down there would be chaos and several provinces would secede. "Whatever happens, I must remain president," the state news agency Antara quoted him as saying.

In downtown Sampit, a Dayak mob torched an abandoned house early Thursday, witnesses said. Similar acts of arson were reported elsewhere in the region.

On Madura, two Dayak men were killed by Madurese refugees from Borneo in an apparent revenge attack, police said. Police and local officials urged all Dayaks living on Madura to leave, Lt. Col. Lukman Wahyu said. There are 34,000 refugees from Borneo on Madura.

In Aceh, another Indonesian region wracked with violence, an independence activist charged with sedition went on trial Thursday. The human rights group Amnesty International called Muhammad Nazar a "prisoner of conscience."

Nazar was arrested on Nov. 20 after organizing a peaceful rally in the region calling for an independence referendum. He faces seven years in jail if found guilty.

Militants in Aceh, located on the northern tip of Sumatra Island, have been battling soldiers in a bid for independence.