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Indonesia's Top Officials to Assess Latests Clashes in Central Sulawesi - 2001-12-04

A top Indonesian government official is preparing to go to Central Sulawesi to determine whether a state of civil emergency should be imposed there. At least seven people have died in renewed clashes in the province between Muslims and Christians.

Indonesia's Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono says he and two other top officials will travel to Central Sulawesi on Wednesday. Mr. Yudhoyono says he will then give his assessment of the situation to President Megawati Sukarnoputri, who will decide whether to impose a state of civil emergency in the area. The imposition of a state of civil emergency would give local civilian authorities more power to do what is necessary to restore calm. It is one step below the imposition of martial law. Some 2,000 military reinforcements have been deployed to Central Sulawesi, 1,600 kilometers east of the Indonesian capital, to assist police and soldiers already there. But tension remains high. Officials say residents of the predominantly Christian town of Tentena are preparing to fend off an attack by Muslim mobs, which they say have encircled the town.

Muslim people are also fleeing other areas, because of fears of attacks by Christians. It remains unclear what sparked the latest round of clashes, which claimed at least seven lives last week. Aid workers say the arrival of thousands of fighters from the militant Islamic group Laskar Jihad, or "the Holy War Force", has contributed to tensions in the area.