Opinion

What happened in Poso?



If you ask people in the street what they crave at this point in time, undoubtedly their answer will be ""peace."" This is not at all surprising, given the endless cycle of violence that this country has been going through. Ever since the years before 1998, when a huge political earthquake jolted the nation, endless violence has rampaged through the archipelago. Throughout this time, the people's patience has been getting thinner and thinner.

It is therefore heart-breaking to hear about the mysterious attack in the Central Sulawesi regency, Poso, over the weekend. The news was like a bad dream relived. Aren't the Poso conflicts supposed to have ended in December 2001, when, under the mediation of tireless Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare, Jusuf Kalla, Muslim and Christian leaders signed up to a peace accord after 2,000 people had been killed?

Isn't this scenic port town, located about 220 kilometers south of the Central Sulawesi provincial capital, Palu, supposed to have forgotten its sectarian enmity? And haven't its 416,000 residents, divided roughly evenly between Christians and Muslims, been living in harmony for many generations?

What clues do we have right now about the mysterious attacks? Unfortunately, not many, especially as numerous communal conflicts in recent years have been kept in the dark. Justice has seldom been served, and truth has seldom come out.

We know only that several months ago the reinforcement troops that helped to put down the three-year Poso conflicts were withdrawn from the region. But were the attacks the results of the withdrawal or was it something else? Again, there is no clear answer.

Similarly, in Maluku, a similar conflict raged on for four years before it came to a halt last year after claiming no fewer than 7,000 lives. Between these two conflicts, Poso and Ambon (in Maluku), hundreds of thousands of people were forced to flee their homes. At the height of the conflicts, a total of 1.3 million people were displaced. That constitutes possibly the greatest number of domestic refugees on record in modern history.

The predawn attack on Sunday against villages, including Saatu, Pantangolemba and Pinedampa -- reportedly inhabited mostly by Christians -- took at least eight lives. Two days earlier, on Friday, a similar attack occurred in neighboring Morowali regency, killing three people and injuring five others. Thirty houses and a church were destroyed during the melee.

As in Maluku, there are ample signs that the belligerent parties in Poso too are tired of fighting. Reports say that the attackers came down from the surrounding mountain areas in Poso.

But no matter who sparked the attacks, the whole episode is worrying, especially because this country is still fighting a secessionist movement in Aceh and, to a lesser extent, in Papua, respectively located in the westernmost and easternmost parts of the country. Apart from all the suffering, more unrest will only put more strain on the government.

What else can we learn from Poso? As with other regencies in the country, Poso has been experiencing a fast transformation from traditional community to a modern one. Local traditional institutions were ""modernized,"" with the military at the helm, especially during the Soeharto years. Community and religious leaders were replaced by military ""territorial"" officers. Certainly, this caused much stress for the community.

In the absence of clues, it is tempting to link these latest Poso attacks to recent research findings. A sociologist from the University of Indonesia revealed in June that rogue elements in the military are believed to be playing a role in Poso. Judging from the small size of the town, Laode Ida said, it was unthinkable that the military could have failed to put an end to the conflicts.

The military's involvement, he said, could be observed from its foot-dragging in putting an end to the rampage. A similar pattern could be discerned in other hotspots, including Maluku, Poso and the West Kalimantan town, Sambas, he said.

In any case, whoever the perpetrators might be, it is imperative that the government look into the recent attacks in Poso without delay and find out who the perpetrators are. It is better to put out the flame right away, before it takes an even greater toll.

We think it is time to say enough is enough with regard to the people's suffering.

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