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Recent Report: Sulawesi : Mark Thornburgh

Rare Decisive Action by Megawati Averts Massacre of Christians by Laskar Jihad in Central Sulawesi

Background of the Current Conflict

Inter-religious violence in Sulawesi has come in three waves. The first wave broke in December of 1998, following the political fall of then-President Suharto, and was sparked by a drunken fight between a Christian and a Muslim youth (TimeAsia, December 17, 2001). The violence, as well as the fighting during the second wave in April of 2000, was comprised primarily of Muslims attacking Christians. The second wave was quickly followed by a third violent upsurge in May of 2000, and was largely a result of Christian retaliatory attacks against Muslims. The result of these last two violent uprisings was a brief war that left scores dead on both sides and which ended with the destruction of a large portion of the city of Poso (Maluku Support Project). Violence flared up again in late 2001, partly due to increased tensions between Muslims and Christians following the September 11 terrorist attacks on the United States (CNSNews, October 24, 2001).

Key Players

Christians: Sulawesi’s population is divided equally between Christians and Muslims Christians in Sulawesi are the cultural remnants of Dutch colonization, as is true for Christian populations throughout Indonesia. Indonesian law provides for, and is intended to protect, the legal exercise of religion for Catholics, Protestants, Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists. However, Christians in Central Sulawesi continue to be met with fierce resistance from Muslim populations (BBC, December 20, 2001).

Muslims: The Muslim population in Sulawesi is comprised largely of immigrants from Java, who arrived under the Transmigration program.These transmigrants, who often faced a host of problems during relocation, often banded together for survival. Some of the hardships they faced include poor or non-arable land and discrimination from native islanders. Many Muslims have been particularly restless in the wake of recent events. Some have even gone as far as calling for the full implementation of Shari’a, with the more fundamentalist groups seeking a grant of special autonomy, to begin the immediate implementation of this law (CNN, January 17, 2001).

Laskar Jihad: A radical Islamic preacher, Ustadz Jafar Umar Thalib, began training volunteers at Java-based paramilitary camps. These trained forces became known as Laskar Jihad, or the Paramilitary for Islamic Holy War. Since then, they have received foreign funding, and are suspected of having links to Al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (CNN, December 12, 2001), despite their leader’s claims to the contrary (CNSNews, December 12, 2001). According to Laskar Jihad’s self-published propaganda, the group accuses Christians of having separatist desires. The group defends its own violent and militant actions by asserting that they serve the greater interests of Muslims and are in keeping with the national interests of Indonesia.

Hundreds of members of Laskar Jihad have gone to Sulawesi since last July (CNN, December 20, 2001). The United Nations estimates that in early December, as many as 7,000 Laskar Jihad members were present in central Sulawesi as the latest massacres began (CNSNews, December 5, 2001). The situation is currently relatively peaceful and there have been no official measures to remove or expel Laskar Jihad from the region (CNN, December 20, 2001).

Nature of the Abuses

The violence in Sulawesi is part of a general anti-Christian movement that manifests itself most often in the destruction of villages and churches, with the general intent to drive the Christian population out. The nature of the violence is thus more of an ethnic/religious cleansing, rather than outright massacres of large numbers of people.

Massacres: The September 11 attacks on the United States precipitated a general heightening of tensions between Muslims and Christians in central Sulawesi. The months following the attacks were littered with smaller-scale incidents, including the following:

Date: October 1, 2001
Place: Tomata, Sulawesi
Victims: Three Christians

A large number of buildings were burned in the central Sulawesi town of Tomata, following an attack by Jihad troops. Among the destroyed buildings were a church, a school and teachers’ quarters, as well as over 60 homes, among them the house of the preacher at the church. Three people were killed. (International Christian Concern).

Date: October 3, 2001
Place: Peleru, Sulawesi
Victims: Ten Christians

Ten Christians were killed, and the church and a large number of homes were burned, when approximately 700 Jihad soldiers attacked the town of Peleru (ICC).

Date: October 14, 2001
Place: Malaeli-Sausu, between Tentana and Palu, Sulawesi
Victims: One Christian

Jihad soldiers armed with automatic weapons destroyed a passenger bus passing near Malaeli-Sausu, en route from Tentana to Palu. A 22 year-old female was killed, and eight others were wounded (ICC).

Date: October 16, 2001
Place: Madale, Sulawesi
Victims: One Christian

Well-armed Jihad soldiers burned the Christian barracks in the village of Madale. Yambi Pio, a 56 year-old man, was killed; 200 other were displaced by the event (ICC).

Date: October 18, 2001
Place: Poso, Sulawesi
Victims: One Christian

Jihad soldiers at a Poso ID-check station killed an unidentified man because his identification labeled him as a Christian (ICC).

Date: October 18, 2001
Place: Tabalu, Sulawesi
Victims: One Christian

Towe Wilelipu, the former Village Chief of Peleru and the husband of Reverend Nety Zion Kalengkongan, was kidnapped by Jihad soldiers, tortured, and executed (ICC).

Date: October 18, 2001
Place: Betalemba, Sulawesi
Victims: Two people

Jihad soldiers attacked the town of Betalemba, killing a police officer and a member of the Indonesian National Army. The homes of 30 Christians were burned over the course of the skirmish (ICC).

Date: October 21, 2001
Place: Toyado, Sulawesi
Victims: One Christian

Fifty year-old Oni Pakaiya was dragged from his van and hacked to death while passing through the city of Toyado (ICC).

Date: October 31, 2001
Place: Malitu, Sulawesi

A large number of Jihad soldiers attacked the village of Malitu, burning over 150 homes. The villagers were displaced to the jungles around Tangkura and Pandiri (ICC).

Date: November 1, 2001
Place: Tomata, Pinedapa, and Kasiuncu, Sulawesi.
Victims: Three Christians

Jihad soldiers attacked the villages of Tomata, Pinedapa, and Kasiuncu. Three Christians were confirmed dead and several others were injured; many homes were also burned (ICC).

Date: November 1, 2001
Place: Between Poso and Palu, Sulawesi
Victims: Four Christians

Four Christians were killed at an unofficial ID check along the road between Poso and Palu (ICC).

Date: November 1, 2001
Place: Waimulang, on Buru Island, off Sulawesi.
Victims: Five people

Four Christians and a police officer were killed when Jihad soldiers attacked the Buru Island village of Waimulang, off the coast of Sulawesi. Two hundred and twenty-two homes were burned and thousands of villagers were displaced. Two churches and a dispensary were also burned (ICC).

Date: November 5-10, 2001
Place: Malitu, Pantongolemba, Ranononcu, and Lembamawo, Sulawesi
Victims: Several people

Jihad soldiers systematically attacked and destroyed the villages of Malitu and Pantongolemba, and laid siege to Ranononcu and Lembamao, in order to gain access to Tentana. An unidentified number of people died in the attacks (ICC).

Date: November 28 – December 2, 2001
Place: Poso and Tentana, Central Sulawesi
Victims: At least seven people

The simmering tension in Sulawesi increased markedly on November 28, 2001, when almost 2,000 Laskar Jihad militias arrived in Sulawesi from the Moluccas. The soldiers were armed with automatic weapons, bombs, and gasoline tankers. They were largely driven with the intention of taking Tentana, a primarily Christian village whose population had swelled with refugees during the recent fighting (CNN). Over the course of the three days between November 28th and 30th, Laskar Jihad soldiers systematically looted and burned Christian homes in the villages of Betalemba, Debua, Patiwunga, Sanginora, Sepe, and Tangkura (ICC, reconfirmed by TimeAsia, December 17, 2001). The burning of these villages displaced thousands of people, the majority of whom took refuge in the primarily Christian town of Tentana.

On December 1, 2001, members of Laskar Jihad successfully attacked the primarily Christian village of Sepe, one of the last Christian strongholds between the Jihad soldiers and Tentana. The town was looted then burned (ICC, reconfirmed by CNSNews). By December 3, 2001, members of Laskar Jihad had surrounded the town of Tentana. Armed with automatic weapons, gasoline, and bulldozers, they threatened to overrun and flatten the town of more than 60,000 people (CNN, December 4, 2001). Pitched fighting resulted, which killed at least seven people and left many more wounded. There were reports of people being shot as they attempted to flee the town (Bloomberg News Archives).

However, on December 4, 2001, an uneasy peace was restored to the region when Indonesian president Megawati Soekarnoputri, in an unprecedented move, sent more than 4,000 troops to the Poso area in order to keep the peace (CNN, December 6, 2001). While Laskar Jihad, unable to take Tentana, claimed that they would carry out plans for a “Bloody Christmas,” the situation remained calm for the rest of the year, almost entirely due to the continued presence of the Indonesian troops. In addition to the military presence, a government-brokered peace deal with concessions from both sides, established on December 20, 2001, helped to ensure that things remained calm (CNSNews, December 21, 2001).

What International Laws Are Being Broken?

No one is immune to obscene human rights violations in Sulawesi. Fortunately the presence of Indonesian troops has tempered this reality. Nonetheless, the following crimes against humanity have been committed in Sulawesi: extra-judicial killings and execution, torture, other inhuman treatments of people, abduction, forcible disappearance of people, arbitrary arrest and detention, destruction of property, enforced transfer of population, rape, disruption of transportation, death threats, and disruption of the media.

Present Situation As mentioned previously, the large scale fighting in December was largely resolved by a decisive intervention from the Indonesian government, which sent over 4,000 troops to the region to enforce the peace. These troops remained in the Poso region to ensure the stability of the area. December 31, 2001, marked a disruption of the peace as four churches in Palu, central Sulawesi, were bombed during New Year’s services. One police officer was killed while attempting to diffuse a bomb; no other casualties were reported (CNN, January 1, 2002). It is believed that these bombings were related to Laskar Jihad’s failed attempt to take Tentana. The attacks are similar to ones committed last year, in which a total of 19 people were killed in church bombings throughout Indonesia during the Christmas season (CNN, December 24, 2001).

The presence of troops, in conjunction with the late December peace agreement, has kept things relatively calm. Police in Poso claim that, since the brokering of the peace deal, no new members of Laskar Jihad have arrived in the region (CNN, December 20, 2001). Moreover, the peace deal came in conjunction with an agreement for the collective surrender of weapons (CNN, December 20, 2001). According to Dr. Jeff Hammond, an observer in Poso, over 20,000 weapons have been turned in, though they are primarily light, homemade arms and not heavy weaponry (Hammond, 2002). Nonetheless, no major fighting or violence has been reported in the region since the bombings occurred on December 31, 2001.

Works Cited

Online News Sources
BBC News. “Indonesia optimistic about Sulawesi” December 19, 2001

BBC News. “Analysis: Roots of Sulawesi conflict” December 20, 2001
http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/asia- pacific/newsid_1719000/1719964.st

CNN.com. “Sulawesi Muslims ‘preparing to attack'” December 4, 2001
http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/southeast/12/03/indonesia.viole nce/index.html.

CNN.com. “Indonesian minister assesses conflict-torn Sulawesi” December 5, 2001
http://cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/southeast/12/05/indon.sulawesi/index.h tml

CNN.com. “Troops arrive to begin Sulawesi crackdown” December 6, 2001
http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/southeast/12/06/sulawesi.troops /index.html

CNN.com. “Indonesia ‘has al Qaeda camps'” December 12, 2001
http://www.cnn.com/2001/WORLD/asiapcf/southeast/12/12/ret.indon.alqae da/index.html

CNN.com. “Sulawesi peace deal reached” December 20, 2001

CNN.com. “Jakarta blast raises Christmas alarm” December 24, 2001

CNN.com. “Bloody Asian start to 2002” January 1, 2002

CNN.com. “Indonesian radicals step up calls for Islamic law” January 17, 2002

CNSNews.com (Cybercast News Source). “Afghan Conflict Triggers Backlash Against Christian Minorities” October 24, 2001.
http://www.cnsnews.com/ForeignBureaus/Archive/200110/FOR20011024c.ht ml

CNSNews.com (Cybercast News Source). “Indonesian Christians Fear Renewed Jihad”
December 3, 2001 http://www.cnsnews.com/ForeignBureaus/Archive/200112/FOR 20011203c.html

CNSNews.com (Cybercast News Source). “Indonesia Mulls Emergency Declaration In Conflict Zone” December 5, 2001.
http://www.cnsnews.com/ForeignBureaus/Archive/200112/FOR20011205a.ht ml

CNSNews.com (Cybercast News Source). “Al-Qaeda Linked To Violence Against Christians in Indonesia” December 12, 2001.
http://www.cnsnews.com/ForeignBureaus/Archive/200112/FOR20011212i.ht ml

CNSNews.com (Cybercast News Source). “Christian-Muslim Peace Deal Struck In Indonesia” December 21, 2001.
http://www.cnsnews.com/ForeignBureaus/Archive/200112/FOR20011221c.ht ml

CNSNews.com (Cybercast News Source). “Bombings At Indonesian Churches Reflect Muslim-Christian Tensions” January 2, 2002
http://www.cnsnews.com/ForeignBureaus/Archive/200201/FOR20020102b.ht ml

CNSNews.com (Cybercast News Source). “UN Urged To Protect Minorities Against Islamist Violence” January 10, 2002.
http://www.cnsnews.com/ForeignBureaus/Archive/200201/FOR 20020110a.ht ml

TimeAsia. “Indonesia’s Dirty Little Holy War.” Dec 17, 2001, Vol. 158, No. 24.

Other Sources
Ian Freestone, Maluku Support Project.

International Christian Concern. Asia: Indonesia, Country Report.

International Crisis Group. “Indonesia: Overcoming Murder and Chaos in Maluku.” ICG Asia Report No. 10. Jakarta/Brussels. December 19, 2000


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