Sat, 06 Dec 2003

80 soldiers questioned over clash

Andi Hajramurni, The Jakarta Post, Makassar, South Sulawesi

Peace returned to Palopo in Luwu regency, South Sulawesi, on Friday, a day after police clashed with soldiers, while dozens of Army personnel were being questioned over the fighting that injured two.

No policemen from the Palopo Police station have been questioned as yet.

South Sulawesi Military Commander Maj. Gen. Suprapto said the local military police would question all soldiers involved in the incident, in which a policeman and a trooper were shot.

Those to be interrogated include local Army commanders, he said, adding that if found guilty, they could face sanctions. Suprapto did not elaborate.

By Friday, military police investigators had questioned at least 80 soldiers from the Army's Yonif 721 Unit to find the masterminds and those involved in the fighting, Palopo Military Commander Lt. Col. Wardoyo said.

Luwu Police chief Adj. Sr. Comr. Novi Hermansyah said none of his personnel had been questioned, pending the probe into the soldiers.

"We are waiting for the results of the investigation of soldiers by the military police because it was they who first beat and attack us," he reasoned.

Wardoyo said the local military had disarmed all soldiers to prevent further clashes. However, Novi said that not all police officers had been disarmed as they needed their weapons for their security tasks.

"We have examined all guns in the hands of our members. Those deemed not necessary have been removed," Novi added.

Suprapto and South Sulawesi Police chief Insp. Gen. Jusuf Manggabarani held talks on Friday in Luwu to restore peace. The closed-door meeting was attended by local security commanders and senior government officials.

Jusuf said the police commanders agreed in the meeting to improve coordination with their military counterparts.

The day-to-day activities of local residents returned to normal after being interrupted by the incident.

Witnesses said they saw a group of around 40 gun-toting soldiers approach the Palopo Police station from behind and begin firing. The station is located some 200 meters from the Yonif 721 Unit compound.

The soldiers also ransacked several houses at a nearby police housing complex, damaging household appliances like washing machines, refrigerators and television sets, the witnesses added.

A kindergarten and a mosque near the scene also suffered damage during the shootout.

Jusuf said the fighting was sparked by a brawl on Nov. 21 between police and soldiers, in which a policeman was shot. What caused the initial clash remains unclear.

He declined to explain the chronology of Thursday's incident. "We are still investigating the case."

The fighting was the latest after often deadly clashes between soldiers and police since the police force was split from the military in 1999. Disputes over protection rackets are often the cause of clashes.