Fresh Flare-Ups – Blast kills 5 in Poso; rebels attack govt convoy in Papua

INDONESIA’S trouble-prone regions are flaring up yet again, casting a shadow over President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s three-week-old administration.

In conflict-ridden Poso in Central Sulawesi, a bomb exploded yesterday on a minibus. It killed five people and injured four, raising tensions in a region where religious strife killed nearly 1,000 people three years ago.

In Papua in eastern Indonesia, a policeman was killed when dozens of men attacked a government delegation in an area where alleged separatists shot dead six civilians last month.

The attacks deal a blow to the government, which is already grappling with problems that ran the gamut from graft to flagging economic growth to a faction-ridden Parliament.

Mr Suko Sudarso, a long-time confidante of Dr Yudhoyono, told The Sunday Times: ‘His priority is reviving the economy. But the re-emergence of these conflicts shows just how important it will be for the President and his Cabinet to get to grips with resolving them.

‘It is not going to be easy because sporadic violence has been going on for years.’

Poso was a major battleground in fighting between Christians and Muslims three years ago, where about 1,000 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced.

Vice-President Jusuf Kalla brokered the Malino peace pact between the warring factions in 2001, but communal fighting has persisted since then.

Indeed, Central Sulawesi has seen an increase in attacks and bomb blasts, mostly on Christians in the past year, with police blaming some of them on the Al-Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah terrorist network.

Yesterday, a bomb exploded at 9.15am in a bus waiting in a crowded market in Poso.

Three people were killed instantly on the bus, two died in hospital and four others were injured.

Police Major-General Rudi Trenggono was quoted in reports as saying that the bus was heading to the Christian village of Silancak. Political observers said this suggested that Muslim extremists could be behind the attack.

In Papua, separatist rebels launched a raid on a government convoy on Friday.

Armed with axes and swords, about 100 insurgents from the Free Papua Movement ambushed the group, killing one policeman and injuring 12 others in the group.

The delegation was visiting refugees who had fled their villages last month following a rebel attack that killed six migrant workers, the state-run agency news Antara reported.

Indonesia took over Papua from Dutch colonial rule in 1963. Its sovereignty over the region was formalised in 1969 through a stage-managed vote by about 1,000 community leaders. A small, poorly armed separatist movement has battled Jakarta’s rule ever since.

About 100,000 Papuans – one-sixth of the population – have died in military operations.

Mr Suko disclosed that the President will be visiting Poso, Papua, Aceh and other conflict-prone regions over the next month.

‘He is aware that there is festering tension in these areas and wants to come up with solutions in his first 100 days in power,’ he said.

The Cabinet has already recommended extending a civil emergency in Aceh, a province where thousands have died since a major military offensive against separatists began 18 months ago.

Speaking after a Cabinet meeting on Friday, security czar Widodo Adi Sucipto said that the extended emergency would likely last for less than six months and apply only in certain parts of Aceh.

‘We have to maintain the momentum for peace in the province. There have been numerous achievements over the past six months, but we must remain vigilant,’ he was quoted as saying in local reports.

When it began its operation last year, the military estimated a rebel strength of about 5,000. At the end of martial law, it said about 5,000 had been killed, captured or had surrendered, but that the rebels had also been recruiting.

Political analyst Arbi Sanit of the University of Indonesia said: ‘The President will score big points if he can bring peace to Aceh, Papua and Poso.

‘None of his predecessors could do anything to resolve problems in these areas.’

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