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'Lack of redress' over past now haunts Poso

Jakarta Globe - November 17, 2012

Rangga Prakoso & Rizky Amelia – Analysts have blamed the recent string of terrorism-related violence in Central Sulawesi's Poso district on the government's failure to solve underlying social woes.

"These kinds of incidents happen again and again because the roots of the problem have never been addressed," Erlangga Masdiana, an intelligence analyst from the University of Indonesia, said on Friday.

He said the factors behind the rise of militant Islam in Poso had never been thoroughly solved, and if any solutions were brought up, they were only discussed at the top level among public figures, but never involved the disputing parties.

Erlangga said that Poso was a special region due to the diversity of its people and their historical reluctance to blend.

"There's a culture gap in Poso. There's no cultural blend. It's true that some of the conflicts stem from ethnic and religious issues, which can erupt at any time," he said. However, he argued that the problems could be solved through proper enforcement of law and order.

"Second, the cultural and assimilation problems have to be solved thoroughly. If they involve ethnic and religious matters, communication between religious figures must be nurtured. If they involve personal matters, they should be solved through the law," he said.

The Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence (Kontras) said the government had failed to adequately deal with the victims of the violence in Poso.

"The victims and families of the conflicts are still traumatized and still hold grudges," said Sinung Karto, head of advocacy at Kontras. "The government's programs have failed to heal them."

He added that the victims of the conflicts became radicals after organized groups from outside Poso approached them. The victims thus felt like they had support in seeking justice for family members who died.

Sinung said local authorities were another factor behind the tensions there, particularly after the Poso district head gave former combatants development projects. Intending to deradicalize them through empowerment programs, it instead resulted in re-radicalization. "The Poso administration ignored the need to restore the victims' civil rights," Sinung said.

Since last month, the district has seen a series of violent attacks involving several fatal shootings, ambushes and bombings of police and civilians.

"The violence started as acts of terrorism. If the police cannot manage this, it can lead to civilian conflicts," said Syamsul Nur Alam, deputy chairman of Kontras. He said there had also been extra-judicial killings of terrorist suspects by the police's counterterrorism unit in Poso's Muslim-majority areas.

Last week, police killed a terrorist suspect, identified as Jipo, while another raid on Nov. 10 led to the death of a person identified as K. who was trying to detonate a bomb, a police official said. Both killings have sparked anger in the Poso Muslim community, leading to demonstrations in front of the district police headquarters and a local market.

"Kontras calls on the police to talk first and consider the psychological state of residents because the area was once a conflict zone and the reconciliation process has not been adequate," Syamsul said.

Former Vice President Jusuf Kalla previously said the violent incidents were not religious conflicts but simply crimes that needed to be tackled and prevented. "There's no conflict in Poso. The recent terrorism [incidents] were just crimes that have to be properly addressed and prevented," he said.

Kontras warned that the religiously charged terrorism acts could cause the restive area to again descend into armed conflict. Poso was the scene of sectarian violence in the late 1990s in which more than 1,000 people were killed.