National

Security forces blamed
for Poso attacks


The Jakarta Post, Jakarta/Palu

Armed assailants involved in attacks in the Central Sulawesi town of Poso remain a mystery, but the authorities' failure to capture them or uncover their identities and whereabouts has sparked speculation that security forces may have played a role in a recent spate of attacks there.

Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf Kalla blamed the local security authorities on Wednesday for failing to prevent the renewed violence from spreading in Poso.

The police's inability to arrest any attackers has prompted the unrest to continue across the town, he told journalists after a meeting at the State Palace, Jakarta.

""Seven incidents have taken place in one month and security personnel have not arrested anyone in connection with the attacks. This has disappointed people,"" Kalla said in Jakarta.

Local Muslim leader Nawawi Sang Kilat and Christian leader Sawerigading Pelima also voiced their grievances over the authorities' failure to capture the assailants despite reinforcement troops being deployed there.

Another local Muslim figure, who refused to be named, said the police might be aware of the attackers' identity and whereabouts.

""The police are actually capable of identifying the perpetrators, but they may be afraid of moving to make arrests,"" he told The Jakarta Post.

Separately on Wednesday, National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar apparently shifted the blame to hard-liners opposed to last December's peace accord to end sectarian fighting in Poso.

""There are people who disagree with the peace deal and we are trying to seek evidence against them,"" he remarked.

Gen. Da'i reiterated that the attacks erupted after troops were pulled out of the three villages as peace was restored there.

But, church workers said it was illogical to withdraw troops on Saturday from Sepe and Silanca, while the security situation there was still uncertain.

At least five people were shot dead and hundreds of houses and two churches set ablaze on Tuesday when unidentified gunmen stormed the three Christian villages of Sepe, Silanca and Batu Gencu in the latest grisly attacks in the town of Poso.

Noldy Tacoh, secretary of the Crisis Center, accused police officers of involvement in an attack on Batu Gencu.

Noldy's accusation was flatly denied by Central Sulawesi chief of Police Brig. Gen. Zainal Abidin Ishak and National Police spokesman Insp. Gen. Saleh Saaf. But Noldy said he had evidence to back up his charge.

The Christian activist argued that the attack was launched after security forces were blocked from entering Batu Gencu.

Residents of villages in Poso that suffered the brunt of the recent attacks, revealed that attackers carried automatic weapons and were dressed in black with a white sash tied at their waist.

Arabic words were written on the cloth, church workers based in Tentena subdistrict, Poso, said, quoting witnesses.

They refrained from speculating that the armed assailants were from the Muslim faction. ""What is clear so far is that the gunmen were non-Christians,"" said Widyanto, an activist of the Crisis Center belonging to the church in Tentena.

Poso has seen two years of religious fighting since 2000, resulting in the deaths of some 2000 people. The violence subdued drastically for several months after the signing of a peace deal by Christian and Muslim representatives in the South Sulawesi hill resort of Malino last December.

But over the past two months, fresh attacks have plagued the town.

A second round of peace talks was organized on Sunday and Monday to ease the violence, but this failed to quell the renewed unrest.

In a latest attack, an 18-year old woman, identified as Vilna, from Lembomawo village near the town of Poso, was badly beaten as she shopped in Poso. The woman, accused of being a spy by the crowd, was saved by security forces stationed nearby.

The local Muslim figure who asked to remain anonymous questioned why the series of recent attacks escalated after the Wirabuana military command based in the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar sent at least 12 Army's Special Force (Kopassus) members to Poso.

Central Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Zainal Abidin Ishak confirmed the dispatch of 12 Kopassus personnel, saying that six were stationed in Poso and another six in Tentena.

He did not explain what mission the Kopassus personnel were carrying out in Poso and Tentena. However, some sources said the Kopassus personnel specializing in intelligence were there to investigate the rumored presence of foreign security officers in the conflict areas, who were traveling there on tourist visas.

An Italian tourist was shot dead last Friday as gunmen ambushed a bus in the town. It was not clear, however, whether he was among the foreigners the elite force were investigating.

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