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Clashes in Central Sulawesi 'engineered'

Jakarta Post - June 5, 2012

Ruslan Sangadji, Palu – Communal clashes and cyclical violence have long been an unfortunate feature in many areas of Central Sulawesi. Conflicting groups are slow to make peace and quick to reengage in fighting only days or weeks later.

The National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas HAM) alleged there was reason to believe many clashes were deliberately created for specific interests.

"We believe particular parties have created a scenario to undermine peace in Central Sulawesi, in addition to authorities who tend to exacerbate the matter by omission," Komnas HAM deputy chief M. Ridha Saleh said recently.

Ridha cited the example of the residents in Nunu subdistrict, West Palu and Tawanjuka, South Palu, who were involved in a four-month conflict that had claimed six lives, injured scores of people and destroyed dozens of homes. The two sides reached a peace agreement in front of Palu Mayor Rusdy Mastura on May 4, only for a fresh conflict to emerge two weeks later in North Palu.

A similar chain of events took place in Sigi regency, Central Sulawesi, where a clash that broke out between residents of Watunonju and Bora villages in February had ceased at one point, before it flared up again on March 4, resulting in the death of one resident, dozens of injuries and a motorcycle being set alight.

The police appeared unable to do anything until troops from the Donggala/Palu/Sigi military command arrived to take control of the situation.

Ridha said that Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Dewa Parsana was responsible for security in the province and that he needed to offer an honest explanation to the public regarding the situation. "We have become a barbaric country. Where are the police? Is the police chief asleep or not firm in handling the situation?" asked Ridha.

Komnas HAM has since summoned the police chief for clarification. "If Dewa fails to answer the summons by Komnas HAM, we will recommend that he be immediately dismissed," asserted Ridha.

A number of quarters in Central Sulawesi felt the current security condition in the province was uncertain due to the ineffective role of the provincial police chief. "The police have never arrested or brought to justice those involved in the clashes as part of a deterrent," Komnas HAM's Central Sulawesi chapter representative Dedy Askari said on Monday.

Palu task force member Muhammad Rifai said that the Central Sulawesi Police chief had turned to the Village Security Assistance program to resolve the issue, despite the fact that the program had major problems in its implementation.

"The police chief has applied the same program in Central Sulawesi that he implemented when he was a regency police chief in Bali. The condition of both areas is very different," said Rifai.

Dewa denied the accusations. He said the clashes broke out due to the characteristics of the local residents who were very easily offended and provoked.

Sectarian conflicts in Poso

Poso was rocked by sectarian conflict from 1998 to 2002 that claimed around 1,000 lives and displaced 25,000.

Dec. 25-29, 1998: Riots begin on Christmas Day and last until Dec. 29 as a result of a misunderstanding among local youths. The riots peak with some 8,000 people involved in the clashes.

April 16-19, 2000: After a four-day sectarian clash, the Central Sulawesi town of Poso has yet to return to normal.

May 23, 2000: Three people are killed and 15 others injured, while scores of houses are set ablaze in fierce clashes that erupt in the town of Poso.

May 10, 2001: The government launches a Security Restoration Operation.

Dec. 20, 2001: The conflict abates after the two parties sign a peace accord in Malino.