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'Hidden hand' behind bid to renew religious strife in Poso?

Updated On: Nov 11, 2005

Jakarta - The "hidden hand", often blamed for many a conflict in Indonesia during the old New Order regime, seems to have surfaced again, this time in the religious strife-riven Central Sulawesi town of Poso. Out of five men detained over the beheadings of three Christian schoolgirls in Poso last week, one is a Christian who is also a former soldier. The revelation that he is of the same faith as the victims seem to lend credence to the view that someone or some group is bent on provoking violence between Christians and Muslims.

     The five men were detained at a public hospital over the weekend following a tip-off. The five are former military police officer Toni Mowala, 51, two security guards, a farmer and a motorcycle-taxi driver.
     "The five people are being questioned at the headquarters of the Battalion 714 and will be handed over to the police after the questioning," said Captain Iim Abdul Muksit, spokesman for the Regional Military Command in Palu, capital of Central Sulawesi. The five have not been formally identified as supsects.
     The profiles of the five men and their alleged victims have raised suspicions that paid professionals, not Islamic militants as had been suspected, are carrying out the executions and bombing attacks to set off another sectarian strife.
     Religious violence raged in Poso from 1998 to 2001, killing more than 1,000. The Indonesian government has described last week's beheadings as an attempt to reignite religious violence in the area.
     "The attacks did not come from one religion but had people from different religions. It seems the purpose is to provoke religious emotions among Poso residents so there will be chaos," said presidential spokesman Andi Mallarengeng.
     Indonesian Army Chief of Staff, General Joko Santoso, said the military will prosecute any soldier involved in the attack. "We will process the suspects according to the law," he said. 
     In a commentary published in The Jakarta Post, writer Aleksius Jemadu views the Poso beheadings as part of unnamed terrorist groups' strategy to make themselves relevant by making inroads into the communal conflicts in Maluku and Poso. Their ultimate goal: To destabilise Indonesia by destroying the very foundation of its national unity. 
     "As Indonesian security authorities increase their vigilance to protect public places, terrorist groups are changing their tactics to killing the most vulnerable and unprotected members of society: Schoolgirls," said Mr Jemadu, head of the Department of International Relations and the MA study program in social sciences at Parahyangan University, Bandung. 
     He said the recent seizure of a huge quantity of explosives by police in Nunukan, East Kalimantan; and Maumere, East Nusa Terengganu, suggests that the terrorist groups are planning to increase their activities in the eastern regions of Indonesia.
     "T
here are indeed certain political groups who are keen to take advantage of the outbreak of religious violence in the eastern parts of Indonesia ... Therefore, there must be the strongest commitment from the top level of government to remain vigilant against the increasing activities of terrorist groups.
     "President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono should try to convince the terrorist groups that Indonesia is too great to be dictated to by persons whose ultimate goal is the breakup of this multi-ethnic nation."

* Five detained in Poso over beheadings of schoolgirls (The Straits Times, Nov 10)

* The Poso tragedy and its significance for security (The Jakarta Post, Nov 8)