Thu, 29 May 2003

TNI, police officers to withdraw from Poso

The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government has ordered the withdrawal of 1,000 soldiers and police officers from the Central Sulawesi regency of Poso, in a further sign of improved security in the area after three years of clashes between Muslims and Christians.

Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Taufiq Ridha said the 1,000 security personnel were reinforcement troops sent to Poso to curb sectarian clashes between 1999 and 2002.

"What's important is that security in the former conflict zone is becoming better," Taufiq told Antara on Wednesday.

He said that the troops would be withdrawn from the regency by the end of June. They would leave Poso gradually, taking into account the continued evaluation of security in the regency.

"The withdrawal will be monitored to maintain the continuation of improving security," Taufiq said.

He said the remaining troops would consist of Poso's regular forces from the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the police.

Clashes between the regency's Muslim and Christian communities killed about 2,000 people since conflict broke out in 1999. Both sides have suffered roughly the same amount of fatalities, and the three years of fighting has prompted thousands of people to flee Poso. About 11,000 families are sheltering across South, North and Central Sulawesi.

The sectarian conflict officially ended in December 2001 when representatives from the two warring sides signed a government- brokered peace accord, known as the Malino I agreement.

The level of violence has since declined. However, sporadic violence continues to undermine the fragile peace process.

Throughout 2002, Poso saw a series of ambushes against public buses, bomb attacks and raids against villages.

Efforts to apprehend those responsible for the violence have not been successful so far. Law enforcement also remains ineffective in the absence of a fully functioning judiciary. Most judges and prosecutors who fled the regency have yet to return.

But Taufiq said that the situation had improved this year.

He said fewer people had been provoked by the violent acts aimed at renewing suspicion among Muslim and Christian communities.

Many suspect that the sporadic attacks are the work of outsiders aiming to sabotage the Malino peace accord. Some blamed the security personnel for the organized attacks but no evidence has been found to back these claims.

Taufiq urged the people of Poso to become more self-reliant in guarding their communities against provocateurs.

"At the end of the day, the responsibility for maintaining security should be in the hands of the people," he said, adding that ideally the police and the TNI should only play a supportive role in maintaining security.

On Monday, religious leaders representing the Muslim and Christian communities in Poso renewed their calls for maintaining peace.