From Poso to Palu, Religious Tension Spreads

Article for Ethics of Reporting Conflict April 29, 2004

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Police defused several bombs throughout the Sulawesi capital of Palu Friday, and aim to tighten security for fear the religious tension tearing apart nearby Poso spreads with its refugees.

This bomb scare follows one day after an explosion outside Palu's Marantha Bible School seriously injured three.

Yahya Amri, regional head of the Muslim education organization Nahdlatul Ulama in Palu, recently received an anonymous envelope containing a calendar with a picture of a prominent Christian leader on each month with a red skull and crossbones stamped on the photos. A letter with the calendar claimed 3,000 local Muslim men vowed revenge on the Christians of Poso.

Political demagoguery by a Poso Muslim politician, Agfar Patanga, to secure the position of town regent began conflict between Christians and Muslims in 1998 with two large incidents of house burnings and attacks on Christians.

A violent Christian response to the first two attacks by Muslims, 'Poso I' and 'Poso II', claimed as many as 500 lives in the tiny village of Kilo Nine where the Christians 'Red Squad' also burned down the village's mosque.

Local residents, panicked by continued bombings and threats, fear the violence and riots will move to Palu as the police now keep rigid control of Poso.

It now seems Palu might face the same lockdown as Central Sulawesi Police chief Brigadier General Zainal Abidin Ishak stated, "I ask police in districts and regency administrations to organize patrols. Anybody out after midnight needs to be questioned."

The 30,000 people uprooted by the intercommunal violence are currently able to provide for themselves as Palu aid organization Bantaya has set aside land for them to farm and local residents permit refugees to stay in their homes.