Extra Sulawesi troops curb killings
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The arrival of more than 2,000 extra troops has helped stop the killings in Poso on Indonesia's Sulawesi island where at least 15 people have died in recent Muslim-Christian clashes.
Religious violence in the area over the past two weeks has prompted Jakarta to act quickly to keep the flare-up from triggering killings elsewhere across the multi-ethnic archipelago.
"The situation is under control now. We have 20 companies from the police and 15 companies from the military here," a local military commander who declined to be named, told Reuters news agency.
Chief Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono visited the region, some 1,565 km (980 miles) northeast of Jakarta, last week, along with the first of the reinforcements who have now swelled the number of security forces to around 3,500.
Sectarian violence erupted in Indonesia after the removal of former president Suharto in May 1998 unleashed communal tensions long suppressed by his autocratic rule.
After months of uneasy calm, fresh violence in Poso began on November 27 when Christian and Muslim militia clashed for several days, burning villages and churches and forcing thousands to flee to the hills.
Troops are now spread throughout the Central Sulawesi town of Poso and neighboring villages in a bid to keep peace and protect people when they celebrate their holiest days at the end of the month.
Muslims will celebrate the Eid al-Fitr festival, marking the end of the fasting month of Ramadan, on December 16, while nine days later Christians will gather for Christmas.
Rumors are rife of both sides across the religious divide preparing for further violence.
Jakarta has considered imposing a state of emergency on Poso and making it only the second area across this 17,000-island archipelago where authorities can take drastic security measures, including spot detentions and the imposition of curfew.
National Police Chief Da'i Bachtiar said last week there was no urgent need for a state of emergency but military chief Widodo on Monday said the option had still not been ruled out.
Last year the central government imposed a state of emergency on the Moluccas, after Muslim-Christian violence spread from one city to the entire chain of islands but so far the Poso killings remain localized.
The violence between Christians and Muslims in Poso has been simmering for more than a year, leaving hundreds dead and forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes.
The violence follows a similar conflict in the neighboring Maluku islands that has killed thousands of people.
Many in the region blame the upsurge on the arrival of members of the Laskar Jihad.
The group, which is based in Central Java, has been accused of being behind some of the worst violence in the Maluku clashes where some 9,000 people have died in more than two years of fighting.
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