Wednesday, June 21, 2006

'Link between Poso violence, JI still unclear'

The level of violence in Poso and Palu has subsided since the government launched an operation in January to restore order to the Central Sulawesi towns. The mandate of the government task force, which is conducting law enforcement and intelligence operations, is scheduled to end July 4. The Jakarta Post correspondent Ruslan Sangadji interviewed operation commander Insp. Gen. Paulus Purwoko about what the task force has achieved, and what more is needed to bring lasting peace to the province.

Question: The Central Sulawesi security task force will soon end its mission. What has it achieved so far?

We had a clear vision and mission before taking up this duty. So the moment we started working, we were already focused on the job. We were able to resolve a number of cases which had long been neglected, such as the arrest of four members of a group believed to have committed a series of violent attacks in Poso and Palu. The members were Hasanuddin, Haris, Irwanto Irano and Rahmat, alias Jenda. They were arrested in Palu, Poso and Tolitoli and are now being detained at police headquarters in Jakarta.

Who are they and what did they do?

They claimed to be members of the Mujahidin group in Poso. They planned and perpetrated acts of violence and robberies in Poso and Palu, such as the shootings of Reverend Susianti Tinulele and prosecutor Ferry Silalahi, the attacks on the Anugerah and Imanuel churches in Palu, the theft of civil servants' pay at the Poso regent's office, the beheadings of the three Christian schoolgirls in Poso and the bombing of Tentena market.

Were they members of Dr. Azahari and Noordin M. Top's terror group Jamaah Islamiyah (JI)?

We have not yet found any indications of their involvement in the terrorist network. They also have not confessed to this. But one of them, Hasanuddin, admitted to having taken part in combat training in Mindanao in the southern Philippines. We believe he was the bombmaker and mastermind of the terrorist attacks.

What were the motives behind the violence?

First, to take revenge on Christians for the murder of Muslims in Sintuwu Lembah village, Buyung Katedo hamlet and several other places in Poso, and to warn Christians not to repeat such acts. Second, they were angry with the government and law enforcers for what they saw as their unfair treatment of Muslims in Poso. The other motive was their anger that the government had not realized one of the points in the Malino peace declaration, which was the restoration of Muslims' civil rights.

Were they involved in the year-end Maesa bombing in Palu?

We have yet to solve that case. The four suspects did not admit involvement in the incident. But the facts gathered from the bombing site indicate that some of the bomb materials used were similar to those used in the bomb that exploded in Tentena market in May last year, which was perpetrated by the four suspects.

What else has the task force achieved?

Besides restoring order, we were also assigned to resolve the graft case involving Poso humanitarian funds. We were able to name a number of officials and businessmen as suspects in the case. They are Central Sulawesi Social Welfare Office head Andi Azikin Suyuti, Ivan Sidjaya, Agus and Radja Dewa, who are now being detained in separate detention centers in Jakarta. We are still examining Central Sulawesi Governor Aminuddin Ponulele's alleged role in the misappropriation of Rp 1.2 billion (US$133,000) in transportation funds for Poso refugees.

Do you think the violence in Poso has subsided due to the presence of the task force?

I think that's very objective. If you look at the numbers, violence in Poso has obviously declined since we arrived. Just look at this (displaying a photocopy of the task force's areas of operation), during the period from October to December 2005 we recorded nine cases of violence in which 13 people were killed and 59 injured. From January to March this year, that figure fell to seven cases with one death and two injured.

And by the end of our term, from April to June, not a single incident of violence was recorded in Poso. During our term, we discovered and confiscated 33 homemade firearms, 199 rounds of live ammunition and 40 assembled bombs and grenades. We have achieved this due to the active participation of all parties in Poso.

Are there any tasks that remain unresolved?

There are two tasks that seem to be very hard for us to carry out: the acceleration of social integration and rehabilitation, which has yet to run smoothly during our mission in Central Sulawesi, especially in Poso.

Well, sorry to say, the frequent replacement of officials from Jakarta, such as from the Social Affairs Ministry and the Home Ministry, is among the obstacles. They don't stay in Poso, flying back to Jakarta every two weeks, which eventually leads to overlapping duties and a lack of understanding of the problems. Another problem is the delayed operational budget from the central government.

Can the current situation be sustained after your departure?

I'm very positive that the situation can be maintained. That's why I proposed to the governor not to ask for another extension of our term because the situation in Central Sulawesi is better than before.

What is your suggested solution for the problems in Poso?

The provincial administration should immediately form an integrated team to resolve matters related to civil rights, continue the communication and dialog with all parties in Poso, boost academic activities and the media campaign to raise people's awareness of peace.

Also, Poso residents should put aside personal and group interests, without being indifferent to other parties. They should be apologetic and forgive the grim incidents of the past. The most important thing is to resolve differences through dialog, not terror or violence.

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Aid workers get shot at, none hurt

Source: The Jakarta Post, January 14, 2005

Ruslan Sangadji and Apriadi Gunawan, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh/Medan

An unidentified group of people has fired shots at some 25 tsunami relief workers in Aceh, sparking security concerns among some volunteers and creating a further hindrance to aid distribution in the province, it was reported on Thursday.

However, none of the volunteers -- from Muhammadiyah, the country's second largest Muslim organization -- were injured in the incident.

Muhammadiyah relief task force spokesman, Reza Alwan, said the attack took place on Wednesday afternoon in Krueng Raya village near the Malahayati port, Banda Aceh, when the aid workers were distributing aid at a refugee camp there.

"It's true that we were shot at when we were preparing to return from distributing food aid and giving health services to refugees," he told The Jakarta Post.

Reza could not identify the attackers who he said fired shots from an elevated area.

The civilian aid workers, comprising doctors and paramedics as well as other staffers, were not hurt in the attack, he added.

Reza said a shootout was fortunately avoided as several police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) officers escorting the volunteers refrained from returning fire.

He said the attackers may not have been targeting the volunteers, but rather the Brimob personnel. "I believe the shots were not directed at us because our presence there was for humanitarian work."

Brimob confirmed the attack and accused separatist rebels of being behind it.

Similarly, other aid workers raised concerns that security worries were hampering their efforts to assist victims of the Dec. 26 earthquake and subsequent tsunami that crushed Aceh and North Sumatra.

Volunteers from the Public Administration Institute (IPDN) reported they had been briefly stopped by unidentified people on their way to West Aceh, Bireuen and Pidie for relief operations.

Despite the security disturbances, the volunteers managed to accomplish their task of collecting data on civil servants in the tsunami stricken towns, IPDN aid task force spokesman Juhanas Waluyo said.

"Alhamdulillah (praise be to God), although some of our friends have not yet returned to Banda Aceh, we have received reports on their work via facsimile," he added.

The Indonesian Military (TNI) has warned that Free Aceh Movement (GAM) rebels were trying to disrupt aid supplies for tsunami victims.

The military has thus banned foreigners working on humanitarian missions in Aceh from moving outside Banda Aceh unless they have clearance and escorts from soldiers.

Only the areas around the provincial capital and the stricken coastal town of Meulaboh were safe for civilian foreign aid workers, the military added.

However, GAM leaders have reaffirmed their commitment to a cease-fire they declared on the day of the disaster.

In Medan, North Sumatra, United States marine commander Brig. Gen. Christian B. Cowdrey said on Thursday that all American aid workers felt safe in Aceh because they received TNI protection.

GAM rebels have so far not disrupted relief operations by foreign agencies, he added.

Cowdrey and Paul S. Berg, a U.S. officer in Medan, hailed the Indonesian government's policy of restricting movements of foreign aid workers in Aceh, saying the move was aimed at protecting them in a known conflict area.

A positive response also came from Joel Boutroue, the United Nations coordinator for relief operations in Aceh.

"For me, I don't see any restrictions at this stage. Here, the government just wants to have control on the movement of foreigners on its territory ... We have to work within these parameters," he said.

Asked whether the policy had affected UN aid supplies, Boutroue said, "No, not at this stage. What is affecting our distribution of aid is not this policy but rather logistics".

He also said the UN could understand Indonesia's appeal for foreign aid agencies to finish their jobs in Aceh by late March.

"I think the three-month deadline is an internal deadline for the government to be able to have a full control of the operation and look to the future, and we welcome that very much," Boutroue said.

He said he believes the Indonesian government would be able to take over all humanitarian operations in three months.

"One of the biggest problems faced by the government in Aceh is that most of the administration is wiped out. And the government is working hard on that, and I think, the administration will be functioning at all levels within the next three months," he said.

Maleo bird on brink of extiction

Ruslan Sangadji
The Jakarta Post /Palu

The population of a central Sulawesi icon,the striking black –and white maleo bird ( Macrocephalon maleo) is on the verge of extinction due to poaching, environmental workers say.

The head of Lore Lindu National Park conservation office, Amir Hamzah, estimated that the curent population of the maleo, wich is part of the distinctive and rare Ordo megapodidae species, now numbered less than 1,000. ‘‘ Whereas, based on our estimated data, the population of the bird in 1998 was about 10,000 in one single habitat,” amir said.

Villagers often hunted the big-footed birds anf their eggs, which they could sell to rare animal collectors. The money was such that people were willing to wait for the birds to lay their eggs in sandy soil for hours on end, he said.

When the females returned to their nests in the evening residents dug 7 to 10 meters into the soil to take the birds single egg.

The maleo used ti nest throughout the huge Lore Lindu National Park and was often sighted near settlement near forests and coasts, Amir said.

As weel as being a national symbol of Cetral Sulawesi, the Maleo was also use for then – minister of research and technology B.J Habibie as the name for a car in the soeharto-era national car program.

But now, people seldom saw the maleo. Because of this, the park outority was conducting a breeding program to try to protect the birds from total extinction, Amir said. It had successfully bred more than 200 birds in captivity and had already released 10 back into nature this month.

“ The breeding sit is located in Saluki village. We released 10 birds …and there are more hatchings to come at the village.”

The park has involved local residents in the breeding plan who have been told of the dangers the maleo faces and are being paid to preserve the bird.

Amir said that the effortas had been quite fruitful.Now more aware of conservation strategies, the villagers would also act as a control on poachers in the area, he said.

Before the national park fice had got involved, a villager from Parigi Moutong, the late Daeng Pabbeta, was a pioneer of efforts to preserve the bird and reseived the Kalpataru environmental award from former president Soeharto.

Amir hoped there were still residents in or around the park who would act like Daeng to voluntarily protect the birds from dying out.

Central Sulawesi Governor Aminudin Ponulele recently emphasized that his administration would componsate anyone who made effor to keep the maleo from extinction.

“ The maleo has always been a symbol of our pride.If the speies goes, our pride will go with it. I will reward anyone who acts to protect the bird,” Aminudin said.

Often ground – dwelling the maleo requeres a humid climate anf sandy suroundings and their habitats ar usully near coatal areas thick with sand and undergrowth and protsted from the wave.

From Jakarta Post news paper ; Saturday May 28,2005

Donors pledge more aid for Aceh barracks

The Jakarta Post, January 17, 2005

Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post, Banda Aceh, Aceh

Germany, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and World Vision have pledged funds to build barracks to accommodate the hundreds of thousands of people in Aceh displaced by the earthquake and tsunami on Dec. 26.

The government has also decided to do away with the bidding to build these semi-permanent facilities at a cost of about Rp 300 million each, and instead will appoint the contractors, most local Acehnese.

Chairani TA, deputy head of City Spatial Planning and Settlement in the Aceh provincial government, said the government had designated 24 locations for the barracks, which will be a temporary home for the victims of the disaster.

"These facilities should be good for two years. By then we expect that these displaced people will have found better places to stay," Chairani said.

He said the barracks would be spread throughout Banda Aceh and in the regencies of Aceh Timur, Aceh Utara, Aceh Barat, Aceh Jaya, Bireuen, Pidie and Nagan Raya.

"These displaced people must not spend too long in refugee camps," he told The Jakarta Post. "We will build these barracks as temporary homes."

World Vision, one of the international relief organizations active in Aceh, has pledged to finance the construction of four of the facilities. Germany will finance five of the barracks, the Council of Buddhist Communities three, the Association of National Contractors one, and state-owned enterprises Nindiya Karya and Hutama Karya one location each. The UNHCR has also pledged to assist in the construction of the barracks.

Chairani defended the decision to bypass the tender process and to appoint contractors. "We want to empower local contractors. Some of them were hurt by the disaster too."

Each facility should be able to accommodate between 1,000 and 2,000 people. They will be equipped with kitchen, toilets and clean water, he said.

A plot of land next to each barrack will be set aside for the construction of educational facilities.

"We will let the occupants decide for themselves what kind of educational facility they need," Chairani said.

Eddy Rachmad, who heads the team designing the barracks, said each building would be 13 meters by 30 meters in size, and each room three meters by four meters in size and able to accommodate up to five people.

Australia is assisting in the design to ensure the buildings are fit for habitation, he said.

Work is already underway in Keude Bieng, Aceh Besar regency, on a barracks, said Amsal Ginting of World Vision.

World Vision is surveying locations for three similar facilities. Rain, however, hampered work on Sunday. Amsal and his team will resume surveying possible locations on Monday.

Palu politicians express support for ex-governor in graft case

National News - June 15, 2006

Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post, Palu

More than 40 politicians and public figures in Palu, Central Sulawesi, came forward Wednesday to give their assurances that former governor Aminuddin Ponulele would not attempt to flee. Aminuddin is a suspect in the alleged embezzlement of humanitarian funds.

The signatures of 44 people, including 35 Central Sulawesi council members, were given to the police along with a request for the suspension of the suspect's arrest.

The request was filed by law firm Idham Chalid on Wednesday. It included the signatures of Palu Mayor Rusdi Mastura, Donggala Regent Adam Ardjad L., Palu-based Tadulako University Rector Sahabuddin Mustapa and Central Sulawesi Council Speaker Murat U. Nasir.

In the letter, the signers said they were willing to pledge that the former governor, who served from 1999-2004, would not attempt to escape, destroy evidence or obstruct the investigation.

Aminuddin was arrested by the police on June 8 for his alleged involvement in thefts from the 2001 Poso humanitarian fund.

The suspect, who is the province's Golkar Party chairman, was put in police custody along with another suspect in the case, DL, who heads CV Ralianti Palu. They were believed to be involved in the embezzlement of transportation funds for people displaced following the Muslim-Christian conflict of 2000 and 2001, which killed more than 1,000 people.

According to Central Sulawesi Police Chief Brig. Gen. Oegroseno, Aminuddin and DL will be charged for violating the 2001 Anticorruption Law. If found guilty, they could be jailed up to 20 years and fined up to Rp 1 billion (US$105,263).

Oegroseno said based on the investigation, the former head of the province's Social Welfare Office, Andi Azikin Suyuti, had instructed the project's leader and treasurer to hand over the fund to Aminuddin, who was the head of the unit coordinating disaster mitigation and displaced people. Andi is currently in Salemba penitentiary in Central Jakarta awaiting trial.

The police chief said a fictitious company, with DL as president, was then set up to handle the fund. It allegedly never worked on the project.

"All the signatures of returning displaced people and the direct appointments (of the company) are fictitious, something that was prepared by a subdivision head of the social welfare office," Oegroseno said.

According to data gathered by The Jakarta Post, the Ministry of Social Services distributed Rp 52.8 billion for 2,000 families of displaced people in 2001. The ministry distributed Rp 74.7 billion for 11,913 families the next year; Rp 57.9 billion for 18,786 families in 2003; and Rp 15.9 billion in 2005 for 5,293 families.

The central government funds were intended to supply critical needs for the displaced people, such as building materials, living costs and transportation. But most of the funds allegedly did not reach them. At least 31 people have been named suspects in the case.***

Poso task force to destroy confiscated firearms, ammo

National News - June 17, 2006

Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post, Palu

The Central Sulawesi Security Operation Command (Koopskam) plans to end its work in the conflict-torn province next month by destroying firearms and explosives confiscated during raids or voluntarily surrendered by residents.

The chief of Koopskam, Insp. Gen. Paulus Purwoko, told The Jakarta Post that the organization has 33 handmade firearms, 199 pieces of ammunition and 40 homemade bombs and grenades in its possession.

"All of them will be destroyed at the same time when the task force's operation ends on July 3 in Poso," he said.

The task force, set up on Jan. 5 of this year, answers to the Office of the Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs.

The task force was formed to investigate who is responsible for a series of violent attacks in Poso and Palu following the 2001 Malino peace agreement. The peace accord largely brought to an end clashes between Christians and Muslims that killed more than 1,000 people in 2000 and 2001.

Paulus blamed the conflict for the high number of illegal firearms found in the province. He said several hard-liners had entered Poso and trained the city's residents not only to use firearms, but to make them.

Arianto Sangadji of the Tanah Merdeka Palu Foundation said during the conflict's early period, residents mostly used traditional weapons such as machetes and spears.

He said in its middle period, however, various kinds of firearms were widely found across Poso. It is suspected they were smuggled in from locations outside the country, such as Mindanau in the Philippines.

Following the conflict, Central Sulawesi was notorious for its illegal firearms. Armed conflicts erupted from time to time. From 2000-2004, the police recorded 174 cases of violence involving firearms in the province.

"These cases do not include bombings," said Arianto.

Following the peace brought about by the Malino agreement, he said many residents hung onto their weapons since they did not want to become victims of armed conflicts.

"The reason for possessing firearms is simple: they still don't believe security personnel's assurances of their safety," he said.

Friday, June 09, 2006

C. Sulawesi vice governor told to resign over 'stupid' remark

Ruslan Sangadji, The Jakarta Post, Palu

The Palu chapter of the Indonesian National Youth Committee on Thursday demanded Central Sulawesi Deputy Governor Achmad Yahya resign over "insensitive" remarks he made in the media.

"Achmad Yahya has not shown himself to be a good leader. He has insulted nearly two million Central Sulawesi residents," said Hardy Yambas, the chairman of the youth committee's Palu chapter.

The controversial remarks appeared in a story run May 21 by Fajar newspaper, which is based in Makassar, South Sulawesi. The story ran under the headline, "Concerned about poverty, choose the practical political way."

"Achmad Yahya said he was inspired to run for the deputy governor's post because the people of Central Sulawesi had been left far behind by other regions in terms of both welfare and literacy," according to the story.

Hardy demanded Achmad Yahya clarify his remarks and resign. "Achmad Yahya's statement is very dangerous as it has the potential to spark ethnic conflict. The Poso conflict is already enough. Don't create new conflicts."

Hardy said he had met with representatives of youth groups and community leaders to formulate a response to the deputy governor's statement.

He said critics would seek the deputy governor's resignation through the local legislative council and with mass rallies. He added that Achmad Yahya would be invited to a public debate to try and defend his position.

"We will test the extent of his knowledge that allows him to say the people of Central Sulawesi are stupid. He's the one who must be unintelligent, to make such a statement as the deputy governor," Hardy said.

Bustamin Nongtji, an academic at Tadulako University, was also critical of Achmad Yahya. He said the deputy governor was only in office because of the clout of the governor, Bandjela Paliudju.

"If he were not Paliudju's running mate, it would have been impossible for him to become deputy governor," said Bustamin, who is a lecturer at the university's law school.