Monday, February 05, 2007

Poso Residents Fear Alleged Arrival Of Militants

Poso - Residents of the troubled Muslim town of Poso, in Central Sulawesi province, have expressed concern over allegations that jihadist paramilitary troops have left Java and are due in Poso, where another police raid led to the arrest of two suspected terrorists on Thursday. The latest raid followed two more in January that left 17 Islamic militants dead.

Levi Bagu, resident of the Kapompa Village, Labuan, Poso, is worried that the arrival of militants could unsettle Poso even more. "I just want to live in peace," Told Bagu.

Sectarian violence has continued to erupt in Central Sulawesi, the battlefield for bloody 1999-2001 warfare between Christians and Muslim militias that left 1,000 dead.

In the last 24 hours, news reports have indicated that members of the officially disbanded Laskar Jihad militia have left the East Javanese city of Surabaya and are on their way to Poso.

In a previous interview, Laskar Jihad chief, Jaafar Umar Thalib, denied the allegation.

“It is all a lie, maybe it is someone else using our name,” he said.

Adnan Arsal, one of Poso’s most influential Islamic leaders and the chairman of the Silahturrahim Forum and the Struggle for Poso Muslims, denied the news report. He also said that the Poso conflict was not connected with Al-Qaeda or Jemaah Islamiyah, as claimed by Indonesia-based experts in terrorism.

"All that is simply untrue. I really do not know where the existence of Jemaah Islamiyah in Poso is,” he said.

Arsal’s son in law, Hasanuddin, is currently on trial in Jakarta for a string of vicious crimes, including the beheading of three Christian schoolgirls. Hasanuddin, who gained military training in the Philippines island of Mindanao, is considered the leader of Poso’s JI cell.

Also worried for the alleged arrival of the jihadi is Rev Rinaldy Damanik, Chairman of the Christian Central Sulawesi Council of the Church Synod, who stressed that the police must stop them.

"I am worried that large scale violence may break out again. But I think this is the police's responsibility,” said Rev Damanik.

In the meantime, local police officials have played down the allegation while however tightening the entry points to the town.

“This matter is only a rumor,” spokesperson of Central Sulawesi Regional Police, Muhammad Kilat, said. “However we stay alert. Whether there is or not a real possibility of any jihadi arriving in Poso, we will keep a close check at several entry points,” he added.

It is understood that extra troops have been deployed at Palu airport, the Pantoloan Seaport and at several other entry points. Extra security has also been extended in several ports in South Sulawesi, where it is believed the jihadi should moor.***


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