Fri, 09 Aug 2002

Second round of Poso peace talks set for Sunday

Muhammad Nafik, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

Signatories of a peace deal to cease the two years of sectarian conflict in Poso, Central Sulawesi, will hold a two-day meeting beginning on Sunday after a spate of recent attacks has shattered the historic accord achieved last December.

The meeting will be held in the Central Sulawesi capital of Palu and attended by local security leaders as well as Muslim and Christian figures who signed the pact during the previous peace talks in the hill resort of Malino, South Sulawesi.

Burhanuddin Maragau, a spokesman for the Central Sulawesi administration, said as quoted by Antara news agency on Thursday that the venue of the meeting was recommended by Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla, who brokered the Malino agreement.

He said the planned meeting was aimed at finding measures to end the renewed attacks and bombings that have recently rocked Poso.

The series of violence incidents has ruined the quest for long-lasting peace in the town, where security was restored for several months after the peace accord.

The latest incident occurred on Sunday when at least seven people were shot and wounded, four others went missing and two churches and 27 houses were razed in Matako village.

The dawn attack forced around 1,200 people, mostly Christians, from Matako and the neighboring villages of Galuga, Malei-Lage and Tongkoyang, to flee and take refuge in the town of Tentena.

Also on Sunday, the house of Poso legislative council speaker Murad U. Nasir was one of at least eight targets bombed. Similar blasts also hit several other locations across the town.

On July 12, a bomb blast destroyed a bus in Poso, killing a young woman and injuring four others, including the bus crew.

It is believed the recent attacks were launched by groups from outside Central Sulawesi. An extremist group from Java was found to be conducting military-style training in a remote part of Poso during the sectarian conflict.

The spate of attacks has forced thousands of refugees to stay put in misery at their camps across Palu.

Refugees urged on Thursday the provincial administration to extend the deadline for them to leave their camps until late August following the renewed violence in Poso.

"We want the repatriation deadline extended," Ibu Hartina, a 46-year-old refugee from Lage village in Poso, said.

Hartina said she was told by local repatriation registration officials that the August deadline must be met unless the security situation in Poso worsened.

"But in reality, attacks are breaking out again," she added.

Support for the change in the deadline came from other refugees still stuck in camps across Palu, who said that the escalation of violence made it impossible for them to return home.

However, head of the Central Sulawesi social welfare office Asikin Suyuti denied that the government had set August as the deadline for Poso refugees to vacate their camps in Palu.

Following the peace accord, many refugees were encouraged to return home. But now the number of those wanting to follow suit has dropped drastically due to the renewed attacks.

Muhammad Romy, a 25-year-old volunteer at a repatriation post in Palu, said at least 100 refugees were sent home every day through the province's social welfare office.

At least 3,900 refugees or 780 families in Palu had registered to join the repatriation program and most of them were sent home to Poso.

The figure is part of some 30,000 people comprising 6,000 families who fled Poso to seek safety in Palu when the religious conflict started to flare up in 2000.

Some 43,000 others or 10,000 families also abandoned their villages and took refuge in safer areas across Poso, but most of them have returned home.