Mon, 11 Sep 2000

Police continue to hunt for masterminds of Poso mayhem

By Jupriadi

POSO, Central Sulawesi (JP): It was a mid-August morning. The sun shone and calm reigned as residents streamed back into the city after weeks of hardship in scattered refugee centers.

The refugees' expressions, however, still spoke of the hurt and trauma inflicted on the city's 400,000 residents by the recent communal clashes that had killed hundreds. At the time of writing this, an estimated 1,000 military troops had been posted here to restrain both Christian and Muslim groups involved in the violence.

The semblance of normalcy was attributed also to a truce declared on Aug. 13 by governors of the four Sulawesi provinces (North, Central, Southeast and South) in Tentena, Pamona Utara subdistrict.

For some people, including Poso police chief Supt. Djasman Baso Opu, the matter was far from over. He promised recently that his men would continue to hunt down three men thought to be responsible for the massacre of at least 270 residents, mostly students of Islamic boarding schools.

Djasman identified Fabianus Cornelius Tibo, Dominggus da Silva Soares and Marinus "Nus" Riwu as leaders of the so-called Black Bat group of black-clad, masked men who had entered settlements and engaged in a frenzy of killing.

Gamma weekly quoted Untung, a 35-year-old refugee among thousands being sheltered in military compounds, as saying that a mob of masked men attacked his village. "Everyone who was over 10 years old was tied and loaded onto trucks and were brought to a spot by the River Poso.

"The masked men then chopped everyone's head off, one by one. I escaped by jumping into the river before they got to me," Untung said.

The masked assailants were later identified as members of the "Red" (Christian) mob. The Muslim camp was later as the "White" mob in the conflict.

Another refugee, Ahmad, spoke of how the "Red" mob attacked his village on June 2, burned down houses and killed anyone they met including women and children. Ahmad and a number of residents fought back and managed to kill A.L. Lateka, a leader of the "Red" group.

The "Red" supporters avenged their leader's death by attacking settlements in the subdistricts of Lage, Pamona Selatan, Pamona Utara, Lore Utara, Lore Selatan, Limbo and Mori Atas in the regency of Morowali. They dumped the bodies in the River Poso, Gamma said.

"I saw corpses scattered around by the river," a Berita Kota reporter testified.

Indeed, at one point during the violence, the River Poso, that slashes the city into two halves, had turned red with the blood of the victims. All this is said to have started when a drunk called Deny hurt his hand at a Poso bus terminal and claimed to have been injured by Lombogia residents, the majority of whom were Christian.

Muslims from three subdistricts of Kayamanya, Lawanga and Bonesompe then rampaged through Lombogia, burning down at least 200 houses, schools and church buildings. Six people were killed in the mid-April violence.

Djasman believed more victims have yet to be recovered. "We are hoping that if we can capture those 'executioners', then we'd find out about the exact locations of other victims," he said.

The atrocity was even worse than that committed in 1965 by the communists, Djasman said. "This is why we will continue to hunt for the perpetrators and suspected executioners," he vowed.

So far, the Poso police have arrested only three men they suspected of leading the killing spree, identified only as Hery, 52, Alexius, 19, and Rahman, 46. None have admitted responsibility for the murders.

"I did round up a number of women and children, but what happened to them (I don't know) as they're in the hands of Dominggus and Tibo," Hery said.

First Lt. CHK Agussalim, the commander of the joint police and military "Peace-loving Task Force" revealed the gruesome task of combing several subdistricts in Poso in search of victims of the attacks.

His men spoke of stumbling upon a dog chewing an object which, on closer inspection, happened to be a human jaw. They also spoke of chasing the animal for the object only to find themselves being led to mounds of decayed, mutilated bodies in shallow graves.

The team found corpses practically everywhere--in bushes, in ravines, in the lake and in the river.

The three subdistricts have been identified as the "killing fields". The bodies found in Lage subdistrict bore signs of torture, which investigators believe took place in the village hall of Tambaru. Agussalim told The Jakarta Post that a ravine in Pandiri, Lage, was another location where the team discovered 57 bodies -- all badly mutilated.

Victims of the violence were also found floating in Lake Poso in the Tentena village, Pamona Utara subdistrict. Two other sites of violence were the subdistricts of Poso Pesisir and Poso Kota.

Agussalim said 89 bodies had been found in Lage, 28 others found in both the subdistricts of Poso Kota and Poso Pesisir. The remaining 153 bodies were found in Lake Poso and the stream of Poso River.

"The actual number could be higher because many residents are still unaccounted for," Agussalim admitted, citing that before the conflict Lage had a population of 1,600 but the number was found to have dwindled to 1,200 in a recent census. "Where have the 400 people gone?"

Djasman said the police now have a list of suspected murderers, including members of the Indonesian Military and Indonesian Police who were said to have joined the Black Bat group.

"(We gathered) from the witnesses there were eleven butchers, but three have been arrested," Djasman said. "We are now monitoring some organizations in Tentena (we believe are) involved."

At the provincial level, deputy police chief Senior Supt. Zainal Abidin Ishak asserted that his people had been seriously working to track down a number of people suspected of involvement. He said a total of 117 rioters had been arrested.

"We are questioning them intensively, we want to find out about their involvement in this killing spree," he said.

Djasman and Zainal were confident that if all suspected murderers were captured, the investigators would then be able to trace all victims and places where they were buried. More importantly, they believed investigations would reveal the mastermind of the violence.

The two police officers said some witnesses have testified that Tibo, Dominggus and Riwu had all mentioned several "generals" as being behind the massacre.

Local media reported that the violence began at dawn on May 23 when a group of "ninjas" suddenly entered the Lore Utara subdistrict killing everyone they met and burning houses and places of worship.

An estimated 15,000 people abandoned their houses and property and sought shelter in cities such as Palu, Makassar, Manado and Gorontalo. The unrest continued until June 4, but was said to be a continuation of the first bout of violence on April 17.

Central Sulawesi police chief Col. H. Soeroso had named A.L. Lateka as having paid the "Black Bat" men to go on the killing spree. Central Sulawesi Governor H.B. Paliudju supported this allegation about Lateka, a former civil servant who was said to be seeking revenge for earlier unrest.

Observers believe the Poso communal clashes are connected with the prolonged violence in Maluku, where thousands of people have been killed since the Christian-Muslim conflict erupted in January 1999.

Sociologist M. Darwin of the Hasanuddin University in Makassar, South Sulawesi, urged the involvement of non- governmental human rights organizations in the investigation. He believed the presence of human rights activists would spur the police investigators on.

"If the police work alone, I am sure this massacre in Poso will soon be forgotten," he said. "It has taken them so long to hunt down the executioners, much less search for the mastermind."

"Had it not been for the presence of the joint military-police team, the killing fields in Poso would not have been revealed," he said.

Darwis urged human rights groups to launch their own investigations into the violence. He said refugees have testified that not only were the Muslim Javanese and Bugis migrants targeted in the killings, but women had been raped and sexually assaulted.

The writer is a correspondent of The Jakarta Post in Ujungpandang, South Sulawesi.