Investment needed in Central Sulawesi to stop terrorism

Investment needed in Central Sulawesi to stop terrorism
Indonesian police officials display firearms and ammunitions seized during a raid against suspected Islamic militants in Poso district on Sulawesi island.

The National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) has urged the government to invest more in development projects in Poso, Central Sulawesi, to help end the long-standing terrorism threat in the conflict-prone region.

BNPT head Comr. Gen. Saud Usman Nasution said the improvement of local infrastructure was vital to maintaining peace in the area, which became the site of a deadly sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians from the late 1990s through the mid-2000s.

"The arrest [or death] of [terrorist leaders] Santoso and Daeng Koro will not end the security problems in Poso, since its roots can be found in the deep-seated resentment among local residents [over past conflicts]," Saud said on Wednesday in a hearing with the House of Representatives Commission III overseeing legal affairs.

The BNPT, according to Saud, has proposed prioritizing the reconstruction of local mosques and churches destroyed during the sectarian conflict.

"If the ruins of the mosques and churches remain visible, [local people] will stay angry," he said.

Although the sectarian conflict in Poso officially ended with the signing of the Malino Accords in 2001 and 2002, the region remains a hotbed for terrorism.

Santoso and his gang are known to have been operating in the region over the past four years. He has reportedly abducted a number of residents in the Lembah Napu areas of Poso regency, some 200 kilometers from the provincial capital of Palu.

The police also suspect that Santoso has joined the Islamic State (IS) movement, also known as ISIS or ISIL.

Earlier this year, the Indonesian Military (TNI) used Poso as the site for military exercises that involved more than 3,000 officers. TNI chief Gen. Moeldoko has called on Santoso and other alleged terrorists to surrender.

In April, police shot dead one of the group leaders, Daeng Koro, in an armed clash between his group and a joint security team comprising personnel from the National Police's Densus 88 counterterrorism unit, the police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) and the Parigi Moutong Police in the Sakina Jaya mountain range, Pangi village, North Parigi district, Parigi Moutong regency.

Daeng Koro was alleged to have been involved in various terror attacks, including the shooting of civilians in Masani village, Poso, and the murder of First Brig. Andi Sapa and Brig. Sudirman in Tamanjeka, Poso.

On Sunday, Brimob officers also shot dead two suspected Santoso-affiliated terrorists in a gunfight in Gayatri hamlet, Maranda village, Poso Pesisir district, Poso regency. Santoso, however, remains at large.

National Police chief Gen. Badrodin Haiti on Tuesday acknowledged that capturing Santoso was proving difficult. He is now believed to be hiding out in a remote area known as Gunung Biru.

Located 2,100 meters above sea level, Gunung Biru (Blue Mountain), also known as Lembah Hitam (Dark Valley) among locals, features rugged terrain that could frustrate security operations.

Commission III member Akbar Faizal of the NasDem Party, however, doubted the government's commitment to capturing Santoso.

"Some people believe police have actually identified Santoso's [location]. Is it true that law enforcers are allowing him to control the population?" he said.

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