Mon, 11 Sep 2000

Poso welcomes back 3,000 of its residents

PALU, Central Sulawesi (JP): At least 3,000 residents of Poso have returned to their hometown from various refugee camps across Sulawesi island, marking the improved security situation in the town previously hit by sectarian riots.

Poso regent Muin Pusadan said on Sunday that 2,000 refugees had arrived from Palu and the North Sulawesi capital of Manado, while the remaining people had returned from Mangkutana in South Sulawesi.

The refugees were transported to their hometown using trucks provided by the Poso city administration.

"They decided to return home after we persuaded them during our visit to their refugees camps. We told them their safety would be guaranteed by the Wirabuana Military Command," the regent said.

"Their return is expected to speed up economic recovery here."

The population of the Central Sulawesi town, known as a tourist destination, was recorded as 40,000 before the riots. Thousands fled their ravaged villages starting in May this year.

Pusadan said the local administration and military had built 1,800 barracks in 32 villages located in the two riot-devastated districts of Poso Kota and Poso Pesisir. More barracks will be constructed soon, he added.

The newly established barracks are provided with health facilities and guarded by three battalions of soldiers from the Wirabuana Military Command overseeing Sulawesi.

"The military presence is effective in preventing potential conflicts based on religious and ethnic issues in the area," Pusadan said, adding that his administration had asked the military authorities to maintain the troops there for a longer period.

Poso was rocked by a series of clashes, dating back to last year. The worst conflict erupted on May 23 this year, with at least 300 people killed and 4,000 buildings destroyed.

Last month, Sulawesi governors signed an agreement to boost peace and reconciliation between the warring parties. The accord recommended security arrangements for refugees, psychological and infrastructure rehabilitation and impartial law enforcement. (27/lup)