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DATE=7/31/2000 TYPE=BACKGROUND REPORT TITLE=SULAWESI CONFLICT NUMBER=5-46756 BYLINE=PATRICIA NUNAN DATELINE=SULAWESI, INDONESIA CONTENT= VOICED AT: /// THE FIRST IN A SERIES OF BACKGROUNDERS ON THE VIOLENCE IN SULAWESI AND THE SURROUNDING AREAS. THREE MORE SPOTS BY PATRICIA NUNAN WILL FOLLOW IN THE NEXT WEEK. /// INTRO: Violence is plaguing yet another of Indonesia's outlying provinces -- this time on the island of Sulawesi. Roughly 500 Muslims are feared to have died in a series of clashes in May between local Muslims and Christians. But despite appearances, the clashes near the city of Poso in central Sulawesi are not based on religious differences. Patricia Nunan brings us a closer look at one of the more under reported conflicts in Indonesia. TEXT: // ACT WOMAN SINGING LULLABYE, FADE UNDER // A woman sings her child to sleep in the classroom of a school in the predominantly Christian town of Tentena. She is one of tens of thousands of refugees who have fled their homes near the city of Poso in the wake of a massacre of Muslims. In late May, mobs of Christians calling themselves the "Reds" reportedly went on an initial rampage against the Poso district's Muslim population. Survivors says at least 38 people were shot or hacked to death when they were found seeking shelter in a mosque. There were also reports that the Poso River was clogged with bodies in the aftermath. Officials put the number of dead at one-hundred-65. Muslim leaders estimate that the number is closer to five-hundred. Thousands of Muslim refugees fled the violence or were left homeless when more than four-thousand homes were destroyed in the clashes. Thousands of Christians also left fearing revenge attacks by Muslims. But despite initial appearances, police and community leaders from both faiths say it is far too simple to label the violence in Sulawesi a Muslim-Christian conflict. /// ACT - ROOSTERS CROWING /// The island of Sulawesi, lying roughly 13 hundred kilometers east of the Indonesian capital Jakarta, is full of lush and largely under-populated tracts of land. That makes it a popular destination for settlers -- both migrants who decided to move to Sulawesi of their own accord, and transmigrants -- groups of Indonesians recruited by the government to leave densely populated areas with less economic opportunity to start life a new elsewhere. At least 12 million people have settled in new areas across Indonesia in the past 25 years. And that's part of the problem. Police Intelligence Commander stationed in Sulawesi, Ronall Firera, explains. /// RONALL FIRERA IN INDONESIAN W/ VOICE OVER /// So some of the new-arrivals are transmigrants, and some just came due to the location and fertile lands. They're all just willing to work hard. In just five years, their work has shown results. A small number of the local people just watch -- and they sell their land to the new arrivals to earn money for that moment -- without thinking about the future. And they use it for partying, dancing, and drinking. /// END ACT /// Long before the clashes of May, officials say that resentment had been firmly rooted along ethnic lines - - between people native to central Sulawesi, and newcomers from the islands of Java, Bali or Madura. The problem was exacerbated when the Indonesian economy collapsed three years ago. That's where the roots of the current violence in Sualwesi begin. But since then, the events that led to the clashes are sketchy. Both Muslim and Christian leaders blame the local political elite for using religious differences to further divide the community and enhance their own power. They say unnamed leaders in Poso's government paid thugs to incite gang fights during campaigns for local government positions. The competition was allegedly portrayed as a choice between Muslims or Christians. Riots soon followed. And in April, a group of Muslims burnt down some 300 Christian homes -- leading to the bloody revenge attack by the Christians in May. Both Muslim and Christian community leaders understand and can trace the confluence of political, economic and social factors that led to the violence in Poso. But it is the religious differences that have been exploited and emphasized. Muslim leader Imam Muhajid, of the Al Mahrijin mosque in the village of Margolembo. /// IMAM MUHAJID IN INDONESIAN W/ VOICE OVER /// In Islamic as well as Christian teaching, there are no such commands to commit violence. But in reality these days, the destroyed houses are owned by the Muslims -- the new-comers. And the ones who destroyed them are the Christians. So if you ask if it's a religious war -- I myself wouldn't put it that way. But what's clear, is that in terms of damages -- either torched houses or people killed -- the ones affected are mostly Muslims. /// END ACT /// Pastor Jonah Lumenta is with the Central Sulawesi Christian Church in Tentena. /// JONAH LUMENTA IN INDONESIA W/ VOICE OVER /// The bible teaches that evil shouldn't be avenged by evil. Evil should be avenged by kindness. But in terms of defending Christians' right to life, violence was forced to happen. /// END ACT /// The situation in Central Sulawesi remains fluid and tense. Most refugees say they want to go home if the situation were safe, and in many cases, if their homes were still there to go to. What Sulawesi's Muslims and Christians have most in common it now seems are the tragic events that made them flee and the pervasive fear of worse things to come. (signed) NEB/HK/PN/JO 31-Jul-2000 07:47 AM EDT (31-Jul-2000 1147 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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