Masohi residents reject
outside brass

Residents who were recently engulfed by a religious conflict in Masohi, Maluku, rejected on Tuesday the possible deployment of Armed Forces and Police officers from outside the province, saying it would worsen the current, calm situation.

"Our people want their region to be guarded by officers from Maluku and reject the suggestion that officers from outside the province should come in," Letwaru subdistrict head N.A. Wattimena told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday.

In the clash between Christian and Muslim communities in the subdistrict on Dec. 9, dozens of houses were damaged, a church was burned down and five residents were injured.

Wattimena said, based on experiences from past conflicts in 1999 and 2000, which happened as a knock on effect of larger conflicts in Ambon, Maluku, the deployment of officers from outside Maluku only makes things worse as the officers' do not adequately understand locals.

He claimed the current local officers from the 731 Kabaressy infantry battalion and the Amahai police mobile brigade could maintain security, as they knew habits of the residents.

"The residents would feel less safe if they were guarded by officers from outside," Wattimena said, adding that 15 community heads in the subdistrict have expressed their rejection of the possible deployment of officers from outside the province.

Meanwhile, a community head in Ampera subdistrict, Josy Patty, said residents in his area also rejected the idea and would prefer that their area be guarded by locals.

"We want our area guarded by our own brothers and sisters in the Armed Forces and Police, from Masohi or other areas in Maluku," Patty told the Post.

Similarly, Robert Lohy, a local leader of the Letwaru subdistrict, said that the planned presence of officers from outside the province would not settle the problem.

According to Lohy, in past conflicts, the deployment of officers meant that the conflicts dragged on longer than they would have otherwise.

The recent conflict subsided after the Central Maluku Police named Welhemina Holle and Asmara Wasahua, as the prime suspects in sparking the riot.

The debacle began when Welhemina, a teacher at an elementary school in Masohi, allegedly insulted Islam during an after-class tutorial for sixth graders.

The students reported the matter to their parents, prompting the local branch of the Indonesian Ulemas Council to ask the police to take action against the teacher.

The teacher is being charged under Article 156 of the Criminal Code on blasphemy, which carries a maximum of 15 years' imprisonment.

Asmara, who led a rally that turned into the riot, is being accused of encouraging criminal behavior under Articles 160 and 161 of the same code.

The Maluku administration had allocated Rp 2 billion (US$180,000) for the repair of the houses and church.

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