10/24/2006, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Man killed and church set on fire as police clash with Muslims in Poso

by Benteng Reges

A Muslim village reacted angrily to police searches on the eve of Idul Fitri. People were instigated by "false" alarms via SMS that accused police of attacking a Muslim school.

Poso (AsiaNews) – In Indonesia, the end of the sacred month of Ramadan saw fresh violence in Poso, Central Sulawesi. Over the weekend, one man was killed and four wounded in clashes between Muslim residents and police, and a Protest church was set on fire yesterday. Everything started on Saturday, 21 October, with a search operation by police in Gebang Rejo village in Poso Kota. Police officers went from door to door, asking Muslim residents if they had "anything to declare". The operation was aimed at finding and confiscating illegal material like weapons, false documents and even unregistered means of transport. The officials later started to hunt for a man who fled during the search.

The razia, as such searches are dubbed in the area, continued the following day, but this time, the residents reacted violently, attacking the local police station. The situation degenerated when someone called more people who fired against the policemen who intervened.

Syaifuddin, a local, died during the clashes while two policemen and two children were wounded. Similar unrest broke out yesterday during the funeral service of the slain Muslim: some people who attended threw stones at a checkpoint on the street. Shortly afterwards, an arson attack on a local Protestant place of worship, Ekklesia Church, was reported. The attack did not leave any injuries or serious damage in its wake.

According to police statements during a press conference in Jakarta yesterday, Gebang Rejo village "has been preparing an attack against the police for some time". A spokesman for the security forces said: "The searches were aimed at rooting out suspected terrorists and limiting their potential activities, but residents showed deep hostility towards the police."

The situation gives cause for concern, not least because the violence appears to have been instigated by groups or individuals intent on bringing back chaos to the region, already shaken by a conflict between Christians and Muslims from 1999 to 2001. In fact, people gathered to attack the police after they received false alarms via SMS about a police attack on a Muslim school.

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