Fri, 05 Dec 2003

Soldiers, police clash in South Sulawesi

Andi Hajramurni and Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Makassar/Jakarta

A soldier and a policeman were wounded on Thursday in shoot-outs between troops and police in the town of Palopo, Luwu regency, South Sulawesi, officials and residents said.

The clash erupted briefly near the Luwu Police station at around 9:30 a.m., and ended after Army commanders arrived at the scene.

However, officials could not say who had started firing first, as the investigation was still underway.

Local residents said they saw gun-wielding soldiers approaching the police station, located about 200 meters from the Army's Yonif 721 Unit office, and then began firing.

Luwu Police officers confirmed the soldiers had initiated the attack.

The shootout continued when, at 1 p.m., police Mobile Brigade officers arrived and attacked the Yonif 721 Unit office, said Luwu Military chief Lt. Col. Wardoyo. No injuries were reported in the Yonif 721 incident.

The two injured in the first clash are First Brig. Yohanes Lande and Second Sgt. Johanes. They are being treated at a local Army hospital for sustaining gunshot wounds in the leg and arm, respectively.

The shootouts appeared to be a response to the skirmish that broke out last month between soldiers and policemen in Palopo, 370 kilometers from the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar.

A soldier, Second Pvt. Alwi, was shot in the leg during the Nov. 21, 2003 clash at Palopo Central Market, which apparently erupted after an argument.

Wardoyo indicated that the initial clash in November, which remains unsolved, may have sparked Thursday's incident.

Before the shooting began, soldiers had beat up two policemen, First Brig. Daniel Pabisa and Second Brig. Luther Mangape, at the Palopo bus terminal, Wardoyo said.

He said Palopo was now under control, as South Sulawesi Police chief Insp. Gen. Yusuf Manggabarani and provincial military chief Maj. Jen. Suprapto had arrived for talks to prevent more clashes.

All local police and military commanders were ordered to calm their subordinates and to remove all firearms.

No one has been arrested as of yet.

In Jakarta, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Gen. Endriartono Sutarto played down the shootout between soldiers and police in Luwu.

"Once in a while it is okay, but we will settle it and deal with the problem," he said on Thursday.

He said the condition of society at large was also reflected in the military and police. "If our society is sick, then our troops are sick too."

Thursday's shootout was the latest in a series of often deadly clashes between the two security forces since the police force was separated from the military in 1999.

Clashes are sometimes triggered by disputes over protection rackets operated separately by soldiers and police to raise extra cash.

In September 2002, eight people were killed over 10 hours of fighting between the army and police in Binjai town, North Sumatra.

Firearms, grenades and mortars were used in the clash that followed an attempt by several soldiers to seek the release of a civilian "friend" detained by police on drug charges.

In February this year, soldiers and police officers were involved in a clash in Dumai, a Riau port town, in which two policemen were injured. The clash was sparked by an earlier brawl between hoodlums and soldiers in a red-light district some 15 kilometers from Dumai.