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Violence Surges in Indonesia's Sulawesi Province - 2001-12-03


Violence has re-ignited in Indonesia's Central Sulawesi Province, with groups of Muslims attacking Christians. The fighting has sparked concerns from relief workers about the safety of internally-displaced people.

Officials say the situation in Central Sulawesi Province is deteriorating rapidly and the worst of the fighting may be yet to come. Local media report that at least seven people died when dozens of houses were burned to the ground last week in fighting between Muslims and Christians.

Military officials and humanitarian workers say groups of armed Muslims have surrounded the predominantly Christian town of Tentena and are threatening to attack.

It is not the first sectarian violence in Tentena and the nearby of city of Poso, about 1,600 kilometers east of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta.

Last year, hundreds of people died in fighting believed to have been instigated by groups of Christians.

Maurice Bloom is the Indonesian country director for Church World Service, a non-governmental organization that provides emergency relief to both Christians and Muslims in Central Sulawesi.

Mr. Bloom says that tension between the two groups has never really eased since last year. "The conflict is going up and down, you know, sometimes a week, [one] day they will fight, but not a lot of attention has been given by the media or here in Jakarta," he said. "So the tension has always been there."

It is not clear what started last week's fighting. But some aid officials say they suspect the extremist Muslim group Laskar Jihad (the Holy War Force) may be behind the new violence.

Human rights groups say Laskar Jihad fighters were responsible for intensifying sectarian clashes in Maluku Province last year. Officials say thousands of Laskar Jihad fighters are in Central Sulawesi.

Mr. Bloom says he does not know if Laskar Jihad instigated the violence, but he says their presence adds to tensions. "Now, since June, July, the Laskar Jihad groups have entered Central Sulawesi, and that made the situation more complex than before, because they have their own agenda," he said.

Aid workers say more than 75,000 people from both faiths have been unable to return home since the fighting began last year.