National

Poso returns to normal
despite recent incidents


Jupriadi, The Jakarta Post, Poso, Central Sulawesi

Six months after the signing of the Malino peace deal the situation in the Central Sulawesi town of Poso is returning to normal, despite the recent series of incidents that have claimed dozens of lives.

There have been signs of peace restoration in the town although the recent incidents have fostered increasing suspicion between the warring Christian and Muslim factions.

Following the signing of peace accord on Dec. 20 last year in the resort town of Malino, South Sulawesi, people from the conflicting groups have returned gradually to Poso from refugee camps in and around the town.

It was expected that their return would mark the end of the communal conflict which erupted in 1998.

As soon as the peace agreement was signed and the public educated on its meaning, people began hoping for a bright future. Only a few months later, signs of life have emerged in the regency which is home to 222,000 people.

""I was surprised. As soon as the peace agreement was aired on television, everyone welcomed it,"" said Daniel Topang, 43, a refugee who lived at the Kayamanya refugee camp in Tentena, two-hour's drive from Poso.

For Daniel, a Christian, who once lived in Poso, the Malino peace deal has brought optimism.

Daniel and many Christian refugees have returned to their homes. Similarly, Muslim refugees have also returned to Poso.

But many of them have expressed disappointment after promised temporary settlements did not materialize.

Following their return to Poso and Tentena, social activities have begun to appear. Markets have opened, while government offices and schools too have resumed operating, although not at maximum capacity.

Similarly, traffic has begun flowing in Pendolo, Tentena and Poso.

Unfortunately, the peace process was disturbed in May. A refugee, Agus Pasolle, who had just returned to Lakalemba village in Pesisir subdistrict, Poso, was found dead on May 16. The situation became tense, but the incident did not spark unrest as the reconciliatory team managed to calm the people.

Another incident occurred when a bomb blast hit the Antariksa bus serving the Palu-Poso-Tentena route in the Landaiga village, Poso Pesisir, on June 5, killing four people and injuring 17 others.

All instantly reacted. Refugees, who were living peacefully, became panicked and the warring camps suspected each other. It was not surprising that many people returned to the refugee camps.

Four days later on June 9, the situation in Poso became tenser after a refugee who returned to the Kayamanya camp was found dead. Each warring faction traded accusations.

Tension was obvious in recent days in Tentena and Poso. Both conflicting groups continued to suspect each other.

""It's normal if the people show such a reaction. They worry and stay alert,"" a resident said.

Despite all the expectations, pessimism reigned among the leaders of the conflicting groups.

""It is not easy to bring peace to Poso. The target of the government (to create peace) within six months is impossible. Security in Poso cannot be restored in such a short time,"" Poso Conflict Resolution (RKP) chairman Darwis Waru told The Jakarta Post recently.

He said the target was likely not realistic as it was not easy to restore security in Poso.

Quoting research by RKP, Darwis said it took at least a generation to create peace. Therefore, it was naive to expect peace to be restored within just six months.

""We see that Poso is not secure yet. Problems occur anywhere. But we have to admit that the peace agreement has changed Poso a little,"" said Poso deputy regent Malik Syahadat.

Syahadat, also chairman of a team to educate the public on the peace agreement, emphasized that the peace pact had brought changes in Poso.

A similar opinion was aired by head of the Christian delegation in the Malino peace pact, Johannes Santos.

The peace agreement, Johannes said, had at least had a positive impact on peace talks in Poso. He acknowledged that the willingness for peace was not enough, regarding some incidents that took place in the last one month.

""The incidents in the past month were regrettable,"" he said.

Muslim hardline leader Nawawi S. Kilat said the Malino peace pact had given a positive impact. But, it must be followed by the government's commitment to the agreement.

Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Zainal Abidin Ishak said his office would coordinate with all related institutions to restore peace in the area.

Yet, residents still doubt the commitment and seriousness of the state apparatus to uphold the law.

""It takes time to create peace. The problem lies on the seriousness of the government officials,"" they said.

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