Mon, 12 Jun 2000

Uneasy calm returns to riot-torn Poso

PALU, Central Sulawesi (JP): Riot-torn Poso passed the weekend in relative calm as a peace pact between warring camps took effect under the watchful eyes of some 1,500 troops deployed in the area.

"Security forces managed to quell any possible outbreak and secure the areas occupied by armed mobs, especially in restive Tentena subdistrict in North Pamona," spokesman of the peace task force Lt. Agus Salim of Wirabuana Military Command said on Sunday.

Roadblocks have been removed from main roads connecting the cities of Makassar, Mangkutana and Palu, which were occupied by groups of rioters in the past few weeks, he added.

"We hope that starting on Monday people can go back to their normal daily and economic activities," Agus said in Poso, some 220 kilometers southeast of Palu.

The officer, however, said that security forces remained on alert to prevent further rioting in areas prone to fighting between Muslims and Christians, such as South Pamona.

The suspension in violence also means that residents can take stock of the horrifying violence of the past three weeks.

Wirabuana Military Commander Maj. Gen. Slamet Kirbiantoro said that since rioting first broke out on May 23, 123 people had been confirmed dead.

"This figure is temporary," he said. "It could swell to double that."

The violence also prompted some 13,000 terrified residents to flee to local military and government buildings, where they continue to reside.

While Poso was calm, Ambon, the provincial capital of Maluku, saw another victim fall on Sunday.

Stevanus, 41, was killed when troops fired warning shots during an incident which broke out shortly after men armed with automatic rifles on five speedboats sprayed bullets at the docks in Poka and Galala, Ambon.

A policeman in the area returned fire. But several soldiers then approached the policeman and chided him for firing. This brought the ire of the crowd who then proceeded to beat up one of the soldiers.

In an attempt to disperse the crowd, the soldiers fired warning shots, one of which hit Stevanus.

Stevanus was rushed to Halong Navy Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. (27/49/edt)