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AKI, Italy


Jakarta – The coordinator of the Crisis Centre for Indonesian Churches doubts the country will see a return to the sectarian violence that beset Sulawesi in past years. But Mona Saroinsong believes further bomb attacks will follow the bloody New Year’s Eve blast at a Christian market in Palu that killed at least seven people and wounded 56. And she blames the behaviour of the police for the area’s volatility.

“The police and the army do not cooperate, but actually obstruct each other. This makes it very difficult to maintain law and order…..which is very low,” Saroinsong said. Most terrorism experts agree the bomb in Palu was the latest attempt by radical Islamic groups to re-kindle the religious conflict that reached a peak in Central Sulawesi in 2000-2001, leaving nearly 2,000 dead. Central Sulawesi is one of the few areas in Indonesia where the Christian and Muslim populations are almost numerically equal.

The New Year’s Eve bomb attacks followed the brutal beheadings of three Christian schoolgirls near Poso, Central Sulawesi on 29 October by Islamic militants, and an attack on the Christian settlement of Tentenna on 28 May, in which 22 people died.

“The anger and mutual hatred still exists, but Muslims and Christians both consider the recent atrocities to have been caused by external manipulation rather than the outcome of a religious conflict ,” Saroinsong said. She was referring to Islamic militants who settled on Sulawesi during the worst years of the sectarian violence and who have stirred up extremist sentiment on the island.

A recent study by the Brussels-based think-tank, International Crisis Group, found that Central Sulawesi has become a refuge for Islamic ‘mujahadeen’ or holy warriors, including Kompak – a rump group formed from the first militant Islamic group on Sulawesi, Darul Islam. The al-Qaeda linked Jemaah Islamiya (JI) southeast Asian terror network – whose goal is the creation of an Islamic caliphate – is also present on the island according to International Crisis Group.

Rivalry between the Indonesian police and the army aids the presence of Islamic extremists on Sulawesi , Saroinsong argues. “If president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono doesn’t intervene and reorganise the two forces, I fear further attacks are inevitable,” she warned.