A senior Indonesian security minister says the fighting in Central Sulawesi province has been brought under control. At least eight people died in clashes between Christians and Muslims in the past week in the province.
Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he has not yet decided whether the government should impose a state of civil emergency in Central Sulawesi province. The move would be a step below the imposition of martial law.
He said the government will continue to intensify security in the province while working to reconcile fighting mobs of Christians and Muslims.
Mr. Yudyhono and two other top officials traveled to the towns of Palu and Tentena on Wednesday to assess the security situation. Hundreds of extra troops have already been deployed to the area, about 1,600 kilometers east of the Indonesian capital, to help restore calm.
It remains unclear what caused the most recent eruption of fighting between Muslims and Christians in Central Sulawesi where clashes have periodically broken out in the past two years.
Some aid workers point to the recent arrival in the province of the militant Islamic group Laskar Jihad, or "the Holy War Force" which they say complicated the situation. Some Christian groups outright accuse the Laskar Jihad of launching an offensive against Christians. Australian Jeff Hammond is a church leader and former missionary in Central Sulawesi. He said the government narrowly managed to avert a massacre in the predominantly Christian town of Tentena. "Since April of this year, more than 30 villages have been totally destroyed and about 4,000 homes have been wiped out. In the last week, 10 villages. And if it wasn't for government intervention with government troops, it's quite possible we were within 48 hours of a fairly major massacre. But the government, the troops, arrived just in time," he said. A press release issued by the Laskar Jihad accuses Christian groups of starting the violence in Central Sulawesi. It calls on all Muslims to help defend the Muslim way of life.