Apr 22, 2024 Last Updated 1:12 AM, Apr 19, 2024

Peace for Poso

Published: Jul 29, 2007

Syamsul Alam Agus

The conflict in Poso was initially triggered by local elite political skirmishes. Over the last four years, however, it has transformed into a conflict between grass-roots communities. Hatred and suspicion have spread among a society that previously co-existed peacefully. The bloody conflict between the 'red group' (Christians) and the 'white group' (Muslims) remains a daily topic of conversation. A string of horror stories have graced the front pages of the local media, making it difficult to differentiate between information and rumour.

The Malino Declaration was a government initiative to initiate reconciliation in Poso. The ten-point accord, subsequently known as Malino 1 after a similar agreement was drafted for Ambon, was signed on 20 December 2001. Poso's inhabitants hoped that the declaration could be implemented successfully, to end the conflict that has resulted in riots on 25-30 December 1998, 16-19 April 2000, 23 May-10 June 2000, 26 November - 2 December 2001 and most recently 12 - 16 August 2002.

Sadly, the Malino Declaration now faces utter failure. Between the declaration's signing and 12 August 2002, there were 30 violations. These violations involved both parties to the conflict as well as incidents triggered by the security forces.

These incidents became increasingly common towards the end of the period set down by the accord for the restoration of security. They have included mysterious shootings, bomb blasts and inflammatory graffiti. These various incidents have rekindled trauma, mutual suspicion and sensitivity amongst society in Poso. The security forces have also contributed to the situation by making statements to the community that have implied that the end of the security restoration period would signal the end of security itself. Predictably, following the escalation of these incidents, the police and military have requested more operational funds from the Central Sulawesi government to restore security. The tension that had subsided is again rising and could lead to further large-scale conflict.

The failure of the Malino Declaration can be traced to several factors. The declaration is elitist, relies on quantitative measures of success, and is laden with opportunities for profitable 'projects'. For example, in the period to June 2002, the Poso Regency Working Group spent 2.2 billion rupiah (roughly A$450,000) just on disseminating information about the Malino Declaration. The accord also separates social rehabilitation, reconstruction of facilities and security, as if these three concerns were not related. As a result, facilities have been constructed without regard for the prevailing security situation or whether inhabitants feel safe, and social rehabilitation has not been supported by affirmative policies towards various flare-ups and incidents. Efforts to restore security, which have focused on placing large numbers of security personnel in Poso, have been easily undermined by disquieting acts of terror. Security has become the monopoly of the security forces, who treat it like a tradeable commodity.

At a community level, there is still a genuine desire to live peacefully. Behind the conflict, the community still remembers a time when living with different religious groups didn't mean living with war. However, the trauma caused by various conflicts has unfortunately created a fear of attempting any reconciliation or rehabilitation that might succeed where the government has failed. Nevertheless, an awareness has started to emerge in Poso that the community has the right to feel safe and have their socio-economic needs fulfilled things they have lost during the conflict. For instance, after an Omega bus was bombed on 12 July 2002, the Poso Pesisir Subdistrict Inter-religious Congregation Communication Forum issued a statement demanding that the security forces work harder to prove that they are trying to resolve the conflict. This statement is also an example of efforts to shift the perception of the conflict away from conflict between grass-roots communities to the role of the state. However, such efforts are still a minority in the midst of media statements by religious figures and political parties that simply blame the other side.

The severance of lines of communication at a grass-roots level has made the community more easily influenced by divisive statements by members of the elite. The media, with its focus on circulation, is more likely to publish these statements. When signatories of the Malino Declaration expressed their disappointment with the security forces for failing to take serious steps to follow up violations of the declaration, the press packaged the statement in such a way that it provoked a negative reaction from one religious community.

Terror after terror, issue after issue, statement after statement - this has been the pattern following the Malino Declaration. If society again takes the bait and participates in violence, this pattern could result in further large-scale conflict. As such, the awareness that has been developed thus far must be guarded and continually consolidated. A broader alliance with a common perception must be established at the most legitimate level, namely between the communities that have directly suffered from the conflict.

Of course this will not be easy. Society has several vulnerable points that will need to be monitored, so that they do not influence the community's capacity to keep each problem in proportion. In Poso, there can be no separation between rehabilitating these vulnerabilities and placing the conflict in the framework of state accountability. These two matters must be worked on together, with the aim to muster a critical force in society aware of its rights and the practices that are weakening its former capacity to manage conflict and difference.

Syamsul Alam Agus (duael@telkom.net) is an activist at the Institute for the Development of Legal Studies and Human Rights Advocacy, Central Sulawesi (LPS-HAM)

Inside Indonesia 72: Oct - Dec 2002

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