Wed, 19 Apr 2000

Poso crippled as unrest continues despite deployment of more troops

PALU, Central Sulawesi (JP): Sectarian riots continued sporadically in the Central Sulawesi town of Poso on Tuesday despite the heavy presence of security personnel.

Antara reported that smoke was seen billowing from buildings across the paralyzed town. Markets and shops were closed as fearful residents stayed indoors.

Some 700 people whose homes were burned down in the unrest have been evacuated. Many of them were sheltered at the local military dormitory and offices.

In their flight, many of the people brought nothing but the clothes they were wearing.

Spokesman for the Wirabuana Military Command overseeing Sulawesi Maj. Joko Warsito said at least 600 reinforcements were sent to the area.

"We've just deployed another 200 troops from the Infantry Battalion 711 in addition to more than 100 reinforcements sent there soon after the riots exploded. We just don't want the unrest to develop on a bigger scale," Joko said.

Kompas daily reported three fatalities since the clashes broke out on Sunday. At least 127 houses, a church, two Christian high schools, one elementary school and a police dormitory in Kasintuwu were damaged.

The conflict was sparked by a fight between teenagers at the bus terminal on Sunday, which grew into clashes between residents from Lambogia and Kayamanya.

Two of the dead were identified as Moh. Husni M. Usman, 29, and Yanto Yusuf Bakri, 17. They were shot by security officers who were trying to disperse a mob setting houses on fire. The other fatality was identified as Rofel, 25.

Joko said Poso was vulnerable to sectarian riots. He said residents living in the northern area clashed many times with those in the south.

Military and political observers have warned that Sulawesi could descend into communal violence after prolonged sectarian strife in the neighboring Maluku islands. The Maluku unrest has claimed thousands of lives since it broke out in January 1999.

The new chief of Wirabuana Military Command, Maj. Gen. Slamet Kirbiantoro, was in Jakarta on Tuesday.

Joko said he would not speculate when asked if the Poso incident was orchestrated by a particular group. (27/sur)