Sat, 22 Jan 2000

Thousands of students decry arrests in Makassar

MAKASSAR, South Sulawesi (JP): Thousands of students at various higher education institutions and the congregation of the Al Markaz al Islami mosque marched on Friday to the police station demanding the release of their friends detained during recent street demonstrations.

"We come peacefully. We urge the police to free our fellow Muslim students currently detained at the station," spokesman for the protesters, Ato Suharto, told The Jakarta Post.

Before they marched to the station, they gathered in the yard of the mosque and heard speeches from speakers who were reportedly members of a jihad movement in Maluku.

The heated situation at the mosque was cooled down a little by the mosque's preacher for Friday's noon prayer, who asked local Muslims not to be provoked by irresponsible groups.

Farid S said in his speech that Makassar Muslims must avoid any actions which could lead to the destruction of the city.

Muslim students staged protests from Monday to Wednesday in Makassar, demanding that the government be fair and more serious in their handling of the sectarian conflict in Maluku.

Some of the students stopped motorists to check their IDs and interrogate non-Muslim motorists. They also tortured non-Muslims. Clashes with the military personnel took place on Tuesday night and arrests were made, as police considered the students had been brutal.

On Friday all shops were closed and a large number of troops were on alert in strategic spots.

At least 16 companies of soldiers were fielded, military sources said.

The demonstrators failed to negotiate with the police on the release of the 26 students. They threatened to cause trouble if their colleagues were not freed.

Ato said the human rights of the 26 students should not be violated during questioning. "Any violations will spark new clashes," Ato said. (27/sur)