Fri, 25 Feb 2000

Police arrest seven for 'witchcraft' killings

BOGOR (JP): Police detectives in Sukabumi arrested 12 people suspected of killing at least seven Tegal Beleud villagers whom they accused of practicing witchcraft.

Col. Edi Darnadi, the chief of the Bogor Regional Police, which also oversees Sukabumi, said on Thursday the 12 men were suspected of killing and dumping the bodies of the seven victims in separate incidents last month in the Cigaranten and Cigadok areas of Sukabumi.

"The suspects were arrested in different raids over the past few days by 27 police detectives from the Sukabumi precinct," said Edi, who was accompanied by Sukabumi Police chief Lt. Col. Tubagus Anis.

According to the preliminary police investigation, none of the victims had ever been involved in any kind of witchcraft.

Tubagus added: "They once tried to cure their neighbors, that's all."

Edi said the suspects were extortionists, who forced the villagers to hand over their valuables and livestock.

"They visited the villagers and accused them of practicing witchcraft. The crooks then demanded the villagers' money and valuables on threat of violence.

"If the villagers complied with the suspects, they placed a sign on their house that read: 'Not a practitioner of black magic,'" he said.

"Those who had no money or expensive goods had to give their livestock to the suspects," Edi said.

The bodies of two of the seven victims have not been recovered.

Edi identified two of the suspects as senior staff at the local administration office, while the other 10 were farmers.

As a reward to the 27 Sukabumi detectives involved in the arrests, Edi presented the officers with money on Thursday.

Over the past few years, the country has witnessed a series of killings targeting alleged practitioners of witchcraft. Most of these murders occurred in cities in East and Central Java.

The majority of the murders remain unsolved, and some police officers have said their investigations indicated political motives behind some of the slayings.

In September 1998, at least 150 people in six regencies in East Java, including Banyuwangi, were murdered.

The initial victims of the killing spree were people suspected of practicing witchcraft, but the killers then began targeting Muslim preachers. (21/bsr)