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Sectarian conflict looms over Poso

Jakarta Post - October 23, 2012

Ruslan Sangadji and Bagus BT Saragih, Jakarta – A church was set ablaze while a sophisticated explosive device struck a traffic police post in Poso regency, Central Sulawesi, early on Monday, igniting fears of a reoccurrence of the sectarian conflict that once ravaged the Christian-majority regency.

Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Dewa Parsana said a certain terrorist group was suspected to be behind an explosion at the police post in Sintuvu subdistrict, injuring a police officer and a member of bank security staff who happened to be passing the post at around 6:30 a.m.

"The terrorist group used a sophisticated device in which they detonated the bomb remotely through a mobile handset."

"The method seems to be similar to the explosive devices found in Surakarta and other places. They are from the same group," said Dewa, refusing to name the group responsible for the attack.

Shortly after the explosion, the police combed the regency and found an assembled bomb near the busy Tentena market, with similar characteristics to those that exploded at the police post.

Dewa said police suspected the perpetrators of being behind last week's slaying of two policemen – Brig. Andi Sappa and Chief Brig. Sudirman – whose bodies were buried together in Tamanjeka hamlet. They were missing for eight days.

"Our analysis shows that the terrorists launched the attack while we are carrying out a massive operation against terrorist groups in several areas of the regency," said Dewa.

Before the explosion, a church belonging to the Pantekosta di Indonesia congregation in Madale village was set on fire by unidentified groups at around 2 a.m.

"The house belonging to the church's pastor was also partly burnt down. But thank God, no one was injured," said Salanggamo, a witness in the incident who was also a member of the congregation. "The firefighters arrived in time to tame the fire," she said.

Pastor Aben, the leader of the congregation, said he and his family were woke by group of people carrying bottles of gasoline.

"My family and other congregation members [who lived near the church] ran to safety," he said. "After the church was set ablaze, villagers, including Muslims, jointly helped to put out the fire while waiting for the firefighters to arrive," said Aben.

Poso was the site of bloody clashes between Christian and Muslim communities between 1997 and 2001 that claimed around 1,000 lives and displaced 25,000.

But after a government-brokered peace pact in 2001, local extremists, many of them linked to and directed by terrorist group Jamaah Islamiyah (JI), mounted attacks on Christians and local officials in the hope of reviving the conflict.

Due to its proximity to the southern Philippines, many of the extremists residing in Poso and its nearby area have been involved with Mindanao's Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) separatist group.

Many of those who fought in the conflict have been involved in several terrorist attacks across the archipelago.

Security personnel have been trying hard to prevent Poso from lapsing into another round of bloody conflict amid concerns that a ravaged Poso would become a base for Islamic extremists to breed and launch attacks in other parts of the country.

A reemergence of the conflict would also served to fire up Muslim extremists across the country to wage war against Christians. Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim majority.

Since August, there has been escalating violence in the regency, with at least four shooting incidents by unknown gunmen recorded, leaving two police officers dead.

Presidential spokesman Julian Aldrin Pasha said that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono had been informed of the incident. "The President has asked the police to immediately launch a thorough investigation," he said.

National Police chief Gen. Timur Pradopo said he had dispatched a team of detectives from National Police headquarters in Jakarta to Poso, but added that police had yet to connect the bombs and the killing of two policemen in Poso, earlier this month.