- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 21, 2002

JAKARTA, Indonesia Troops are being sent to central Sulawesi island after an outbreak of violence between Christians and Muslims that left three Christians dead last week.
Jusuf Kalla, coordinating minister for people's welfare, said about 3,000 military and police personnel are set to join the 11,000 forces in the region centered on the town of Poso, the scene of friction between the two groups since 1998.
Some Indonesian officials are urging the government to take even stronger measures. Gen. Endriartono Sutarto, commander of Indonesia's military forces, said authorities should consider imposing a state of civil emergency, which would give security forces more leeway to act against perpetrators of violence.
Despite a peace agreement signed in December, security forces have made no arrests to curb the recent increase in violence, sparking accusations that they are working in tandem with "unidentified assailants" responsible for attacking Christians.
Local Christians blame extremists from outside the region for the latest attack Thursday in the village of Taliwan. Three Christians were shot dead, and the community retaliated by burning newly built houses belonging to Muslims in the village of Tomata.
The Poso conflict began with an argument between two drunken teenagers, one Muslim, the other Christian, on the eve of Christmas and Ramadan in 1998.
About 2,000 people, most of them Muslim, have been killed since 2000. But most of the recent attacks in the area surrounding Poso have targeted Christians.
While the recent friction appears religious in nature, the roots of the conflict lie in a "transmigration" program of former President Suharto, who moved large groups of people around the archipelago in hopes of developing resource-rich regions.
The program brought large numbers of Muslims into traditionally Christian areas of central Sulawesi, shifting the ethnic balance of the region. The city of Tentena, with 65,000 people, is the last Christian stronghold in the region.
Some Christians believe the latest attacks are the work of Laskar Jihad, a paramilitary Muslim group suspected of involvement in earlier attacks on Christians in Maluku province.
Others suspect the military may be giving arms to militants in the area to create destabilization thereby strengthening the hand of the military in its political struggle to maintain power in the capital.
Security forces staged a major search operation after a police officer was reported missing in the Poso area last week.
The Central Sulawesi Crisis Center said police officers blamed Christian villagers for the trooper's disappearance and fired their weapons into Christian homes and churches.
Some community leaders and activists have since directed appeals to the international community.
One source close to the community said the United Nations has "become more receptive" to the idea of working with the Indonesian government to establish a peacekeeping force in Poso.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide