Mon, 07 Apr 2003

Maluku, Poso remain `unsettled'

Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon/Jakarta

Security authorities will continue to disarm civilians in Maluku and Poso in anticipation of the 2004 general election and the planned gubernatorial election in Maluku.

Pattimura Military Commander Maj. Gen. Agus Tadi said in Ambon on Saturday that despite the 15-month-old agreement to end the three-year-old conflict between Muslims and Christians, the situation in the province was still a cause for concern because many civilians still possessed arms and explosives that they had either made themselves or stolen from security personnel.

"Despite the calm situation, many people, especially former militiamen, presumably possess homemade and conventional arms and explosives that could be used should the situation turn tense in the future," he said at a media conference here on Saturday.

Agustadi, also chief of the operation to restore security and order in the province, said that searches for arms would be conducted in anticipation of the next gubernatorial election and the 53rd anniversary of banned South Maluku Republic (RMS) separatist movement on April 24.

"The two events could revive the conflict because the situation in the province has yet to be brought fully under control," he said.

The government has postponed the gubernatorial election indefinitely because, despite the peace agreement, the situation in the province has yet to fully return to normal. Herman Sarundayang has been appointed the acting governor to replace Saleh Latuconsina, whose term of office ended last December.

Gubernatorial succession was one of factors that caused the conflict to erupt on Jan. 19, 1999. The conflict, which claimed more than 6,000 Muslim and Christian lives and displaced more than 750,000 people, ended with a peace agreement signed by the two conflicting factions in Malino, South Sulawesi, in February 2002.

The separatist movement's reappearance in 2000 prolonged the conflict as several RMS figures were arrested and later brought to court.

"Like previous years, RMS supporters are expected to raise the RMS flag to mark the celebration their organization's anniversary," said Agustadi.

He added that security authorities had yet to recover more than 500 rifles and guns stolen by militiamen of the two former conflicting groups from military arsenals during the conflict.

Brig. Gen. Taufik Ridha, chief of the Central Sulawesi Police, said in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi, that the situation in Poso was still fragile since many people still possessed homemade arms and explosives.

"Security authorities will continue to conduct the operation to restore security and order in the regency and to encourage all refugees to go back to their home villages," he said.

He said security needed to be enhanced so that the 2004 general election could be secured.

He added that the security restoration operation that was backed by the local military would continue, while the task force representing the former conflicting parties was still evaluating the implementation of the Malino peace agreement for Poso signed on Dec. 20, 2001.

He called on the task force to complete its main mission to encourage reconciliation among the conflicting groups in the regency so that people taking refuge outside the regency would return home.

"Many refugees have declined to go back home because reconciliation has yet to be conducted in their home villages," he said.