Sat, 19 Jul 2003

14 soldiers face court martial over Poso violence

La Remy, The Jakarta Post, Palu, Central Sulawesi

At least 14 Army troops will soon face a court martial for their alleged roles in an orgy of kidnapping and murder in the Central Sulawesi town of Poso, currently enjoying an uneasy peace after years of sectarian violence.

All the soldiers -- two second lieutenants and 12 first privates -- have been declared suspects in the kidnapping of dozens of civilians in the Toyado area last December.

Two of the suspects were charged with killing several of the captives, and 10 others with maltreating other civilian victims.

Lt. Col. Wempi Hapan, the Military Police detachment chief in the Central Sulawesi capital of Palu, said the charges were laid after 65 witnesses, including 10 civilians, had been questioned.

He said the 14 soldiers would be tried before a court martial in Manado, North Sulawesi.

Wempi did not specify a date, nor did he identify the suspects.

However, he said his subordinates had completed the 1,000-page case file on the soldiers, which would be submitted to military prosecutors.

"It is quite a thick dossier. The abstract alone runs to 400 pages," said Wempi, who was formerly a military police investigator at the Jakarta Military Command headquarters.

The Toyado civilians were allegedly abducted by the soldiers on Dec. 2 last year after one of their commanders, named only as Capt. Tomy, was shot in the head during a clash between Muslims and Christians in the Sepe area.

Tomy was immediately flown to Jakarta for medical treatment. Five other troops were also slightly wounded during the same clashes.

The abductions shocked residents in Toyado as they took place at dawn when they were taking their first meals of the day during the Ramadhan fasting month.

The incident was later reported to security authorities in Poso after one of the victims escaped the abductors.

However, some hours later in the afternoon, local people found the bodies of the some of the kidnapped civilians. At least three of the victims are still missing.

Wempi further said the 14 soldiers could be charged with violating Article 351 of the Criminal Code, which carries a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

Whether the rogue soldiers would be discharged from the Indonesian Military (TNI) or not would be up to their commanders to decide, he added.

Poso saw two years of sectarian fighting between Muslims and Christians that started in 2000, and which killed some 2,000 people and forced thousands of others to flee their homes.

In December last year, their leaders signed a peace deal to halt the clashes. However, sporadic attacks still occur occasionally.

Fears of an upsurge in violence are currently widespread in Poso following recent bombings and mysterious shootings by persons unknown.