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Political elites ‘prolonging’ Poso sectarian conflict

Ridwan Max Sijabat, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta
For the full story, go to Jarkata Post

For those people who wonder why the sectarian conflict in Poso, Central Sulawesi remains smoldering, local Muslim and Christian peace activists have a theory.

They say it is a public knowledge in Poso that the conflict, which claimed more than 1,000 lives during the past six years, has been intentionally prolonged by elites in Poso and Jakarta for political and economic gain.

In an interview with The Jakarta Post on Thursday, the activists declined to identify the masterminds behind the recent attacks but said they were “easily found in central and local governments, the military and the police.”

The four activists are former Muslim and Christian militiamen fighting in the sectarian violence that peaked between 2000 and 2001 — Andi Basatahir, Agustanti Ekarini Saptati, Alex Patambo and Syamsul Alam Agus. They are all either from predominantly Muslim Poso or the Christian enclave of Tentena.

The activists said most people from the two religious communities there were tired of the conflict and wanted peace. However, operatives working for the elites were provoking incidents to keep the animosity between the religions burning.

They said many people in Poso knew the identities of the people behind the conflict.

In its October 2005 report on the violence in Poso, the International Crisis Group said a study of recent incidents in Poso and Tentena suggested “the conflict areas continue to be home to ‘leftover (Muslim) mujahidin’ who went there to fight from other parts of the country and never left … or who were locally recruited and continued to be active in jihadist circles long after the conflicts waned.”

However, the report also said the May 5, 2005, bomb attack in the marketplace of the Christian town of Tentena , Poso, which killed 21 people, was more complicated. The culprits likely came from “beyond mujahidin circles to include local officials and gang leaders,” it says.

Agustanti said while there were still a few people left in the area from hardline militia groups, most had gone.

“But strangely, more bombs have exploded, people are being mysteriously shot dead and many others living in remote areas have been intimidated.”

Alex, an activist from the Central Sulawesi Churches Crisis Center said Poso would have returned to normal if the government had the political will to remove the instigators of the violence.

Syamsul said security and order in Poso could be restored only if the police and the military took strict actions against rogue officers and enforced the law.

“So far, none of the cases of violence that occurred during and after the conflict, except the one involving (Christian) Fabianus Tibo and his two friends (Marinus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva) who have been sentenced to death, have been investigated as recommended by the 2001 Malino Peace Agreement,” Syamsul said.

The situation in Poso had remained tense because the central government was not fully committed to implementing the peace accord, and its officials had become part of the conflict, he said.

Bombings, killings, abductions and rapes that happened around the conflict were yet to be investigated because local government officials and security personnel were involved, the activists said.