Wed, 23 Aug 2000

Poso leaders bury hatchets for peace before Gus Dur

JAKARTA (JP): Leaders of warring Muslim and Christian communities from 15 districts in the Central Sulawesi town of Poso buried a buffalo head on Tuesday in a symbolic gesture of burying their hatchets and putting differences aside in order to live in peace.

The traditional ceremony, witnessed by President "Gus Dur" Abdurrahman Wahid, who flew in specially for the occasion, marked the end to bloody fighting between the communities going back to the 1980s, Antara reported.

The President also received a document signed by the 15 leaders pledging to work to promote peace in the area.

Christians and Muslims in the area have engaged in recurrent armed battles for decades.

Their conflicts escalated in the last two years, leaving hundreds of people dead and sending thousands of people fleeing to towns in all four Sulawesi provinces.

Poso Regent Abdul Muin Pusadan asked President Abdurrahman for massive cash assistance from the central government to help with a Rp 67 billion ($8.17 million) program to rebuild houses and public facilities which were damaged in the conflicts.

"The local administration could only come up with Rp 7 billion for the program. We hope the remainder of the money will come from the central government," Pusadan said.

Central Sulawesi Governor H.B. Paliudju said the peace agreement was brokered by a special team of the Poso administration and supported by the governors in South Sulawesi, North Sulawesi, Central Sulawesi and Southeast Sulawesi.

The four governors met in Poso early this month to search for a solution without resorting to central government intervention.

"Following the meeting of the community leaders, we hoped people would return (from the refugee camps) and promote traditional values under Sintuwu Maroso," Paliudju said referring to the local terms for "cooperation and mutual help."

President Abdurrahman in his speech to the community leaders hailed their decision to resort to a cultural approach to end their conflicts.

"I'm very happy to witness the agreement read by traditional leaders. It underlines the importance of peace," he said.

Abdurrahman arrived in Poso to a Pekasiwia, a colorful traditional welcoming ceremony of the ethnic Pamona people who live around Poso lake.

The President was presented with a chicken egg, a white hen and unfermented palm water at the ceremony watched by other local tribes such as Tajo, Lore, Bungku and Bare'e.

The only other Indonesian president to visit Poso was Sukarno in 1952, according to Antara.

Gus Dur said cultural aspects were important in any effort to resolve conflicts in a nation as diverse as Indonesia.

He admitted that the nation has neglected the existence of many cultures in the past. "We have focused too much on the Javanese culture at the expense of the others," said the President, who hails from East Java.

He cited a study by the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI) which said the nation should pay special attention to the promotion of cultures of 14 ethnic groups across the country.

"It's a precious experience learning the various cultures. We end up appreciating even more to live as one nation," he said.

During his whirlwind visit to Poso, the President was accompanied by First Lady Sinta Nuriyah, Indonesian Military Chief Adm. Widodo A.S., National Police Chief Gen. Rusdihardjo and Minister of Home Affairs Surjadi Soedirdja. (jun)