Indonesia: More troops not the solution to Sulawesi unrest

Report
from Paras Indonesia
Published on 12 Jan 2006
The government has ignored calls for an independent inquiry into ongoing violence and terror attacks in Central Sulawesi and instead decided to form a new security command in the province. The result so far? An exchange of fire between rival military police and officers, a small explosion near a church and a fire at local government buildings.

There were no casualties in any of the latest incidents, which occurred over late Monday (9/1/06) and early Tuesday, but analysts said the unrest highlighted the failure of the government's security approach to the violence.

Human rights groups have complained that sending reinforcements to Central Sulawesi is a waste of money and will not halt the bloodshed because members of the security forces have been linked to the sectarian and communal violence that has plagued the province since 2000.

Monday evening's clash and explosion occurred in the conflict-torn city of Poso on the eve of the Islamic holy day of Idul Adha -- the feast of the sacrifice -- which commemorates Abraham's willingness to kill his son for God, only for a sheep to be substituted as the sacrificial object. At least 4,000 security personnel had been deployed in Poso to safeguard the holiday.

Conflicting reasons were given for the cause of the clash between the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) and Mobile Brigade (Brimob) police.

Chief of the newly formed Central Sulawesi Security Operation Command (Koopskam), Inspector General Paulus Purwoko, said the violence was sparked after two men riding on a motorbike taunted a unit of soldiers who were securing locations about to hold Idul Adha prayers.

He said the soldiers, believing the two men were plainclothes Brimob officers, went to the local police headquarters at the former Alamanda Hotel at 6pm to search for the pair, only to come under fire from police.

The two sides exchanged fire for about 10 minutes. Purwoko said they were not firing at each other, but only shooting into the air.

According to the police's version of events, a quarrel erupted between TNI personnel and police at Poso's Central Market. Police claimed the soldiers started the squabble, which led to an exchange of fire on Jalan Sumatra nearby the market and police headquarters.

Poso Police chief Rudi Sufahriadi said the clash was merely due to a misunderstanding between individuals and did not indicate a lack of unity between the police and TNI. He said the commanders of the two units would be questioned over the gunfire, which had caused locals to panic.

Purwoko attributed the clash to poor discipline, saying it would not be tolerated. Meanwhile, Vice President Jusuf Kalla said the clash was merely "due to a misunderstanding between two security personnel".

Soldiers and police have often clashed across Indonesia since the two underfunded forces were separated in 1999. Much of the violence has been attributed to arguments over the control of illegal businesses, such as prostitution, drug trafficking, extortion rackets and illegal logging. In Central Sulawesi and the Maluku islands, some of the clashes between the two forces have been linked to religious and communal differences.

Under the regime of former president Suharto, police were subordinate to the military. After Suharto was forced to resign in 1998, the police force was made independent and tasked to deal with crime, while military was relegated to the less lucrative role of defending the nation from foreign attacks.

Minor Blast

Monday's clash was followed by a small blast at about 8.30pm outside a local government office opposite the Sion Church on Jalan Poso Raya.

Local police officer First Brigadier Anawir said the minor explosive device was probably only a firework. He said two people on a motorbike had been seen throwing a small object into the front grounds of the office of the local government's task force the handling Poso conflict. "It exploded soon after," he was quoted as saying by detikcom online news portal.

Central Sulawesi Police chief Brigadier General Oegroseno said an "opportunistic terrorist group" was responsible for the explosion, as well as a series of recent bombings and violent attacks in the province. He did not elaborate on the possible identity of the group, but said it was probably motivated political factors and not linked to the country's most wanted terrorist, Noordin Mohammad Top.

Fire

Later that night, a fire damaged several buildings at the Poso municipal administration complex about 20 meters away from the site of the blast. The blaze started at about 12.40am Tuesday and was extinguished three hours later.

Purwoko said there was no evidence of arson. The fire started at the Archive Office and spread to the Food Regulating Office, Agriculture Office and Health Office.

Police could not confirm reports the fire was sparked by the explosion of an electrical device in the complex.

Man Released Over Palu Market Bombing

A man detained after a December 31 bomb blast that killed seven people at a Christian market in Palu was released on January 7 because police could find no evidence linking him to the attack.

Mulyono (58), who is from Central Java, had denied any involvement in the attack, saying he had gone to the market to look for a man engaged to his niece.

Police are yet to name any suspects over the attack, although they are still questioning a man with the initials B.D.

Police are also looking for the driver of a red Isuzu Panther vehicle, which had allegedly been used to transport the bomb to the market.

Root Cause

Parliament speaker Agung Laksono on Wednesday expressed doubt over the Koopskam's ability to resolve the Central Sulawesi unrest, saying the government should immediately focus on finding the root cause of the violence.

"If the root problem is not found, the security disturbances will continue to happen, despite the presence of the Koopskam," he was quoted as saying by detikcom.

"The occurrence of case after case in Poso and Palu is partly due to the weak coordination in the field between TNI, the National Police and State Intelligence Agency [BIN]," he said.

He said Monday's exchange of fire illustrated the poor coordination in the field. "One side was sweeping and the other side didn't know about it," he said.

Legislators Propose Civil Emergency

Also in Jakarta, legislators said Koopskam lacks the teeth to overcome the Central Sulawesi violence, so the province should therefore be placed under a state of civil emergency.

House Commission member I Jeffrey Johanes Massie, a member of the Christian-based Prosperous Peace Party (PDS), said the latest "bomb" blast was a major blow to the government.

"If the government no longer has any alternatives and is unable to overcome the Poso problems... then I agree that that a civil emergency should be implemented," he was quoted as saying by detikcom.

He said coordination between BIN, police and soldiers was very weak. "It would be very embarrassing if the government cannot immediately overcome [the problem]," he said.

Democrat Party member Boy Saul also said a civil emergency should be introduced if the Koopskam fails. "If the Poso problem cannot be overcome by this means, then there must be a civil emergency to comprehensively handle the security situation," he said.

He called for the plan to be socialized so as not to cause any fear among locals. He said an increase in soldiers and police was necessary. "Because security officials have been threatened, I will push this proposal at the commission's next meeting with the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs," he added.

With calls for independent inquiry continuing to fall on deaf ears, it seems unlikely that peace will be brought to Central Sulawesi any time soon.

By: Roy Tupai