Tue, 08 Feb 2000

26 arrested for allegedly masterminding Luwu feuds

LUWU, South Sulawesi (JP): Local police and military troops have arrested 26 people for their alleged involvement in the two- year-long ethnic clashes in Luwu and North Luwu regencies.

Local police chief Lt. Col. Tatang Soemantri said on Monday the 26 people were charged with instigating the violent clashes. Tatang declined to elaborate.

The communal clashes have erupted sporadically since January 1998, claiming 28 lives. The unrest has left some 350 houses and public facilities charred or destroyed by fire.

Material losses from the incidents has reached more than Rp 2 billion.

Reports said the conflicts began to occur regularly in 1985. It was often triggered by street brawls between teenagers before escalating into inter-village clashes pitting natives of Tana Toraja against migrants from Java.

It is believed that hundreds of people have died in the 15 years of violence, not to mention the property razed to the ground.

A number of migrants attributed the clashes to the natives' envy over the economic gap between the two communities. "The natives accuse us of robbing their land," said a migrant, who asked for anonymity.

The two regencies were formerly united in one administrative area before the government created two regencies last year in a last-ditch effort to quell the conflict.

Tatang said that during the joint operation, which was conducted between Jan. 27 and Feb. 1 this year, security personnel confiscated 438 homemade guns called papporo, 557 arrows, 118 spears, seven air rifles, 103 sharp weapons, 118 iron poles, revolver ammunition, four magazines for an M-16 semiautomatic rifle and 385 weapon launchers.

"We will continue the operation by promoting peace among the people and conducting regular operations from house to house to seize illegal weapons," Tatang said.

Some 1,500 police and military personnel joined the operation code named Sipakatau. They have combed a total of 60 villages in 17 districts in North Luwu and Luwu regencies.

Tension reportedly ran high in several districts in North Luwu and Luwu regencies following a series of communal clashes. (27/edt)