Mon, 14 Jul 2003

Poso attacks spark fears of more violence

The Jakarta Post, Palu/Makassar

A wave of renewed attacks in Poso, Central Sulawesi, has sparked fears of an upsurge in religious violence after months of relative peace in the once riot-wracked town, where security forces are now on a heightened state of alert.

The latest attack occurred as a gang of masked men fired shots at a policeman and school teacher, while on a motorcycle at Lembomowo village, Poso subdistrict, on Friday afternoon.

The shots critically injured First Brig. Petrian Malangi, a member of the Lage Police, and the woman teacher, Marlian Lapano, police said.

They said the gunmen sprayed bullets at Petrian, who was taking the school teacher home on his motorbike.

The victims, both Christians, were in critical condition and being treated intensively at the hospital, as they had lost a lot of blood, Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Taufik Ridha said on Saturday.

He declined to speculate on the identity of the gunmen, but said they did not resemble regular criminals. The motive behind the incident was as yet unknown.

Local police said they had deployed additional personnel to hunt down bombers and gunmen.

The shooting followed a bomb explosion in Poso on Thursday night, which left four people injured, with at least one, identified as Sutrisno, 40, in a critical condition.

Sutrisno had his right leg and left hand amputated after a bomb attack at a food stall, which also wounded three other victims -- Tini Alimin, 36, Melki, 33, and Fela, 2.

Earlier on Wednesday, gunmen shot dead Yulius Ledo Pamimi, a 32-year-old resident of Saatu village, Poso.

Police remain in the dark about the culprits, as the bullets that killed Yulius could not be recovered because his family refused to permit an autopsy to be performed.

Another bomb also exploded two weeks ago in Kawua village, Lage subdistrict, as local residents held a traditional dance party. No injuries were reported in that blast.

In May, two other people were also shot dead by snipers in another part of Poso.

National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar acknowledged on Sunday that the security situation had heated up again in Poso after the bombings and mysterious shootings by unidentified people.

"After the security situation in Poso had increasingly become more stable and began to be restored, it (the violence) has recurred now. Therefore, we are tightening up on security again," he said in Makassar, South Sulawesi.

Da'i said the police would continue to empower local people to help ensure security in Poso.

He added that security often became a problem in the regency each time the police planned to pull out reinforced personnel from the region. He did not elaborate further.

The renewed violence has come after months of relative peace in the region, once ravaged by bloody fighting between Muslim and Christian gangs.

In December 2001, Muslim and Christian leaders signed a peace accord brokered by the government to end two years of conflict that had killed some 2,000 people. However, sporadic violence erupted occasionally.

Despite the recent outbreaks of unexplained attacks, deputy Central Sulawesi Police chief Sr. Comr. Sukirno claimed on Saturday that security and order was under control in Poso.

He said that Poso people in general were not reacting excessively to the shootings and bomb blasts.

"What happened was a one-off occurrence and we don't see any further reaction from large groups," Sukirno said, as quoted by Antara.

He added that he had sufficient personnel to keep any incipient conflict in the regency under control.