JAKARTA, INDONESIA - Indonesia's armed forces have launched a 90-day operation in the Southeast Asian country's Central Sulawesi province to improve community welfare throughout its seven districts.
Linked to Jakarta's 2016 efforts against followers of terror suspect Santoso, who are hiding out in the region, the operation aims to improve agricultural infrastructure. Major General Agus Surya Bakti said that with the opening a 3,000-hectare rice field and the construction of two reservoirs, along with 1,700 meters of irrigation channels and 3,800 meters of irrigation pipes, local families would be less dependent upon anti-government elements.
“If they have enough means to support their family, automatically there will be peace," Bakti, leader of Central Sulawesi's military territorial command, told VOA. "Then they [will] avoid and fortify themselves against violent concepts.”
Bakti also said the development operation would "raise the dignity of the people of Poso, which has dropped significantly in the eyes of the world, as if the area is violent with many conflicts."
Poso is the main port and transportation hub for the northeastern coast of Sulawesi island, where an aggressive military campaign has sought to undercut growing domestic support for the Islamic State militant group, whom Santoso supports.
Santoso, Indonesia's most wanted man, has been on the run for more than three years.
The development operation, Bakti said, will serve as "a message for our friends in the jungle that are still fighting for an ideology which they think is right, but which most of us think is not right. We want to tell them: Instead of having to run from one place to another, why not plant the rice fields?"
Billed as a cooperative effort among the armed forces, regional government officials and local police, the development operation has been timed to increase security during Ramadan.
Indonesia Inspector General Boy Rafly said counterterror operatives had identified a possible Santoso hideout in the Blue Mountains, but that the task force hadn’t been able to pinpoint the location of militants. Police in the region, Rafly said, suspect some locals have been pressured into providing militants with food and resources.
This report was produced in collaboration with VOA's Indonesian service.