Blasts in Jakarta and Sulawesi greet New Year

A series of bomb explosions rocked four churches in strife-torn Central Sulawesi as Indonesia entered a new year bracing itself for another bloody round of sectarian and religious unrest in the archipelago.

And in what police investigators believe to be an unrelated incident, one person died from what they believe was a grenade blast in front of a restaurant in south Jakarta.

While the scale of the bombings were nowhere near what took place last year – when bombings in Jakarta and other cities killed 19 people – analysts said it would put even greater pressure on President Megawati Sukarnoputri to resolve such problems in the face of growing criticism of her rule.

Three of the explosions in Central Sulawesi’s capital of Palu took place just before midnight as thousands of people gathered to celebrate in the streets.

The state Antara news agency quoted witnesses as saying men on motorcycles hurled explosive devices. One person was injured as the blasts shattered windows of the churches.

A fourth explosion occurred yesterday morning at a Pentecostal church, seriously injuring two policemen who were examining the device.

In the Jakarta incident, police said the 21-year-old victim, who had his hands blown off, was probably carrying a grenade or “some other powerful explosive device” before it went off.

But concern centred on Palu where just two weeks ago, Christians and Muslims on the island signed a government-sponsored peace deal to end a long-running conflict that had killed more than 1,000 people.

Reports quoted the region’s police chief, Brigadier-General Andi Zainal Ishak, as saying the blasts were engineered to cause chaos in Central Sulawesi.

But sources in the state intelligence body told The Straits Times that the roots of the conflict were largely communal and religious.

“We believe that 90 per cent of the problems here and other provinces are caused by local factors which are then exploited by political groups,” said a general, who disclosed details of an intelligence brief that was submitted to Ms Megawati recently.

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