Poso Transformed Into "Battlefield" Against Terrorists

"President Jokowi's instruction is to sweep clean, for which all the TNI forces will be deployed. How come (we have done) nothing against them for the last decade? Starting next month, we are going to the field and crushing (them)," Home Affairs Mini
Jakarta (Antara News) - Parts of Poso are being transformed into a battlefield as some 3.2 thousand Indonesian military officers of the Swift Reaction Strike Unit (PPRC) are participating in a massive military exercise against terrorists, being held for two weeks, since March 31, 2015.

TNI Commander General Moeldoko has said that the large-scale exercise is being held as a precaution in case of the emergence of radical groups in Indonesia.

"I suspect that the members of radical groups feel at ease in Poso. I am worried that those going to Iraq and Syria, following their return to Indonesia, will make Poso as their base," the general stated when officially launched the military drill in Poso, South Sulawesi, on March 31, 2015.

The exercise is deliberately organized as part of precautionary measures being taken by the government against terrorism, following recent reports of a number of citizens joining the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

General Moeldoko told newsmen that joint TNI forces would only conduct combat training in the forest and sea territories of Poso.

Moeldoko noted that it was not aimed at catching terrorist suspects, but added, "If we find Santoso and his men, we will ask them to surrender and shoot them if they dont."

The location was chosen because of the potential of security threats in the region, he explained, adding that later, when the TNI conducts operations there, it would know the location better.

"If operations are to be carried out later, personnel will already have knowledge of the front, the enemies and the weather," he affirmed.

Besides being a preventative step against the ISIS development, the military exercise in Poso is also aimed at capturing the terror group led by Santoso.

As many as 20 wanted terrorists are believed to be hiding in the forests of Poso. They keep moving from one forest hill to another, covering an area of around 40 square kilometers.

The military officers surrounded and attacked the terrorists bases in a mountainous and coastal area.

The TNI deploys warships and jet fighters such as F16s to attack the terrorists. In reality, a mountain named Mount Biru is a hideout for the Santoso- and Daeng Koro-led armed groups.

M grade rockets were fired at Mount Biru from land, sea and air by the PPRC during the drill.

After spraying rockets at Mt. Biru, two warships and four fighters with heavy artillery in turn fired at the mountain from a certain height, followed by a deployment of parachutists from 10 Hercules planes and a helicopter.

According to TNI Commander General Moeldoko, the exercise conveyed a "Show of Force" message that ISIS has no place in the country; and it is expected to have a considerable impact regionally as well as internationally.

Earlier, the commander of the 132/Tadulako military region, Colonel Inf. Ilyas Harahap, said during the battle drill, local villagers were evacuated to ensure their safety because the military personnel use live ammunition.

He, however, said "the battle exercise is not being carried out to look for terrorists," the colonel affirmed.

In the meantime, Indonesias human rights NGO Kontras hopes that the ongoing military exercise in Poso does not disturb the local community.

The NGO was worried about the presence of a large number of military personnel in Poso because it could alarm the local community.

"Once again, we would like to remind the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) that it still has responsibilities towards human rights settlements related to the conflicts in Poso in 2001," a spokesman for the Sulawesi chapter of Kontras, Nasrum, said in a statement in Poso on March 31, 2015.



The human rights activist also believes that the involvement of the TNI in the efforts to fight terrorism in Poso was not necessary yet.

"(The nation should consider) whether the situation in Poso affected the sovereignty of the Unitary State of the Republic of Indonesia (NKRI), or only the order and security in the community," he added.

Nasrum pointed out that the police could tackle the terrorist acts allegedly carried out by the eastern Indonesian mujahidin.

The involvement of the TNI should not take over the duties and tasks of the police, he remarked.

Furthermore, Nasrum claimed that the fact of villagers residing in the location of the military exercise seeking refuge in safer places has caused social uncertainty.

"The public is panic stricken because they had to be evacuated as the implementation of the military exercise was not clear enough," he explained.

The military exercise has also caught the attention of the Commission I of the House of Representatives that is closely monitoring the drill to ensure that it is carried out within the ambit of existing laws.

"We will monitor what is going on in Poso. As long as no law is broken, we will accept it," Deputy Chairman of Commission I Hanafi Rais said at the parliament building in Jakarta, on March 31, 2015.

He added that monitoring was needed to ensure that the training remains within the legal corridor and does not turn into operations the public fears, such as a military emergency operation and the creation of a military operation zone.

Commission I will ensure that the TNI only conducts a war exercise for the purpose of maintaining order if necessary in the future, Rais affirmed.

"If other activities happen in Poso, we will hold a meeting with the TNI commander and ask him for a clarification," he stated.

However, Rais pointed out that terrorism was a police-related issue, whereas the TNI dealt with separatism. So this categorization must be maintained in the field.

"We believe terrorism is a police affair, while separatism is that of the TNI. We wish to maintain this difference in the field," he remarked.

A Poso legislator, Muh Masykur, recently also expressed his worry about the large-scale battle exercise involving personnel from the Navy, Army, and Air Force.

"Poso is extraordinary. As if the area is a battlefield. This is regrettable. Why is Poso chosen as the location for holding a war exercise?" Muh Masykur, the head of the National Democrat faction in the Central Sulawesi regional legislative council (DPRD), recently noted while commenting on the ongoing combat exercise involving personnel from the Navy, Army, and Air Force.

Masykur expressed his fears that following the conclusion of the exercise, Poso would be declared as a military operation area because radical groups have been hiding in Posos mountainous areas.

He believes that a military approach would not guarantee a solution to the humanitarian problem in Poso.

"There are still many ways, for instance, by approaching the victims and the perpetrators. It should be that way," he affirmed.

Spokesman of the Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) Fuad Basya remarked that the local villagers who were relocated during the early days of the combat exercise, in which live ammunition are being used, have returned back to their villages located in hilly areas.

Following the exercise, the TNI will carry out a territorial operation for three months in Poso to negate the impacts of the battle exercise by the Quick Reaction Strike Force (PPRC), Fuad Basya informed Tempo on April 1, 2015.

During the operation, plantations and agricultural fields damaged due to the airstrikes will be restored, he added.

Other activities will also include social programs such as free medical services and renovation of the houses of local villagers.

This operation is also expected to help prevent the spread of radical ideology there, he stated.

A week prior to the massive battle exercise, some 1,200 police personnel launched an attack called "Operation Seagull Maleo 2015" to capture Santoso and his members and stop logistic supplies by sympathizers.

Besides, one PPRC battalion will remain in Poso District, Central Sulawesi Province, to make the local community feel safe, stated General Moeldoko.

"I have reported it to President Joko Widodo. If needed, the PPRC personnel will stay here to continue the operations with the police personnel. The president has agreed," General Moeldoko noted on March 31, 2015.

In late 2014, Home Affairs Minister Tjahjo Kumolo had stated that the government with the help of Indonesian Defense Forces (TNI) intends to nab the ISIS members, who have entered Poso.

"President Jokowis instruction is to sweep clean, for which all the TNI forces will be deployed. How come (we have done) nothing against them for the last decade? Starting next month, we are going to the field and crushing (them)," Minister Kumolo had said in Papua in late December 2014.

He added that his Ministry had traced 100 foreign fighters from the IS, who have entered Poso.

"There are 100 foreigners from the IS group currently in Poso. If (they) cannot do jihad in Syria, then (they will launch) jihad in Poso," the Minister remarked.

Kumolo, a senior politician with the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), stressed that the military will intensify security measures in the border areas to prevent IS members from entering Indonesia.

"The TNI will crush them. Every force will be deployed, including the National Police," he added.

In response to the massive hunt, the Commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM), Manager Nasution said the Commission supports the fight against terrorism, but it should be implemented by upholding human rights.

Deputy Chairman of Komnas HAM Anshori Sinungan reminded the authorities that they should follow existing procedures for making arrests and should do their due diligence through prior investigation to make sure that the movement in Poso really does involve the IS.

"I think the movement is not what we imagine or similar to the one in the Middle East," he was quoted as saying by the Republika daily on Dec 30.

Komnas HAM is of the view that the best way to address a terrorist movement is by improving public welfare and providing justice, and by not merely using weapons and arresting people.

The prolonged sectarian violence in Poso, which has almost equaled the number of Muslim and Christian population, dates back to the late 1990s.

The peak was the so called, "Walisongo Islamic boarding school massacre" on May 28, 2000, when Christian militants attacked a school in Sintuwulemba, killing 165 Muslims (official figure), including children and women.

Three leaders from the local Christian militia were later convicted and executed in 2006 for crimes committed during the massacre. Since then, a series of sectarian and violent clashes have taken place.  (*)
(f001/INE)

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