Sat, 15 May 2004

Three more apprehended for weapons possession

Ruslan Sangadji, Poso

Police said here on Friday they had arrested three Christians in Tentena, North Pamona district, Poso regency, on charges of possessing hundreds of rounds of ammunition, homemade weapons and military uniforms. They were Lam Tjau Wa, Yunas Kancaro and Paulus Tungkanan.

The arrest was made after a door-to-door search in the district on Thursday involving some 400 security personnel.

In Tjau Wa's house police personnel found two safes where hundreds of rounds of live ammunition were stored, a military backpack, several homemade rifles, a khaki jacket and a bayonet. In Paulus Tungkanan's house police personnel confiscated hundreds of rounds of live ammunition of various caliber and three homemade rifles.

Police personnel also seized ammunition and weapons in a car repair shop belonging to Yunas Kancaro on Jl. Pangeran Diponegoro in Tentena. The items confiscated were one homemade rifle, one gun and a live round of ammunition for an FN pistol.

Chief of Poso Police precinct Adj. Sr. Comr. Abdi Dharma Sitepu said on Friday that the three were being interrogated and their status would be immediately made public.

Paulus Tungkanan was one of 16 leaders of Christian gangs according to Fabianus Tibo. The statement was made during a trial three years ago in Palu, the capital of Central Sulawesi province, in which Tibo was the defendant.

Tibo was brought to court and received the death sentence for his role in sectarian conflict in Poso in 2000, in which some 2,000 Muslims and Christians were killed and thousands of others forced to flee the regency.

"We are investigating whether Tungkanan was part of or even a leader of a Christian gang," said police officer Sitepu.

Rev. Renaldy Damanik, the coordinator of the Christian Church Crisis Center in Central Sulawesi, commented that the police should uphold the law. "There should be no exception. Anyone who violates the law has to be punished," he said.

The sectarian conflict in Poso regency has largely subsided after a government-brokered peace pact in Malino three years ago, but sporadic attacks have continued until recently.

Last month, a man sprayed bullets into a church during a church service when people were praying. The attack wounded seven worshipers, including a four-year-old girl. It was the fourth armed attack in two weeks in the troubled regency of Poso, which killed two, including a reverend.

Door-to-door searches by police personnel, which have been held since last year, are aimed at reducing weapons and ammunition kept by civilians, with the hope of putting sporadic attacks and future bloodshed to an end.

Many, both Muslims and Christians, have already been arrested and tried for weapon and ammunition possession.