Poisoning the peace in the Spice Islands
By Bill Guerin
A key Indonesian Christian leader working for an end to the violence in the
Spice Islands (Malukus) is reported to have been poisoned while in police
custody in Palu, the capital of his native province of Central Sulawesi.
Reverend Rinaldy Damanik, 43, head of the Crisis Center of Central Sulawesi and
leader of the Poso region Christian Synod, was stopped by police last August 1
in Peleru, Sulawesi. Police reportedly found 14 home-made guns and ammunition
in the car Damanik was traveling in.
Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) this week cited medical reports that
indicate an attempt was made to kill Damanik with insect poison in his food on
December 26, three days after police moved him to Palu without telling his
lawyers or family. Amid increasing concerns for his safety, he has now been
moved to the custody of the Central Sulawesi High Court.
Damanik has disputed the police version of the event last August, saying that
when they allegedly found the weapons, he was some 50 meters away and had only
read about the weapons in press reports quoting police. Damanik suggested that
the police planted weapons in his car so they could detain him because of his
past criticism of police conduct in the province.
Nonetheless, the pastor was eventually arrested and detained on August 22,
though three attempts to get him before judges in the local High Court have
failed, as police have not produced sufficient evidence to substantiate their
Damanik has been a key supporter of the reconciliation process between
Christians and Muslims and has
been an outspoken critic of the police and government's perceived lack of
commitment to stop the violence in the region. His supporters see the arrest as
a bid to silence him and appease Poso extremists, who, with influential
supporters in both the government and the military, are thought to be intent on
sabotaging the fragile peace process.
Lasting peace in the
Malukus, where some 9,000 people have perished and
three years of bloody combat has spawned more than
half a million refugees, is crucial to rebuilding the shattered islands and to strengthening religious
tolerance in the rest of the country.
Wars and enemies
of the state
(Aug 24, '02)
The Crisis Center of the Churches in North and Central Sulawesi says there is
evidence that witness testimony against Damanik was obtained using torture. His
lawyers have been refused access to the case evidence, unusual even in
Indonesia, and he has been refused bail because of dubious prosecution
allegations of witness tampering.
Damanik was charged with violating an emergency law that prohibits owning or
controlling weapons or ammunition without permission. If found guilty he could
face up to 12 years in prison or even the death penalty, though no date for a
trial has been set.
Two other Indonesian pastors are languishing in a Sulawesi prison. In 1998
Reverend Robert Martinus, then 42, and Reverend Yanwardi Koto, 36, were
sentenced to six years and seven years respectively on charges of kidnapping,
rape and forced conversion of a Muslim girl.
Damanik is a different breed altogether. He was a signatory of the
state-sponsored agreement in December 2001, the Malino Peace Accord that ended
more than two years of intermittent clashes between Muslims and Christians in
the Poso area. Some 500-1,000 people have been killed and tens of thousands
left homeless as a result of clashes between Muslims and Christians in Poso.
After this pact Damanik was one of those tasked with informing the
international community of attacks and human-rights violations in the area.
When he was stopped by the police in August he had been coming to the aid of
Christians who had been attacked by what he claimed was an estimated 60 Islamic
militants who used automatic weapons. The attack came just hours after
delegates from Poso concluded a second round of government-sponsored peace
talks in Palu.
These were part of a series that followed the Malino pact. Several months of
calm had ensued and there were genuine hopes of a lasting settlement.
Unfortunately the militant Laskar Jihad, which unilaterally disbanded shortly
after the Bali bombings last October 12, rejected the peace pact.
Last April, violence flared up in Ambon with Laskar Jihad storm troopers waging
mini-wars on the Christian community, and in July further attacks on villages
threatened to destabilize the situation seriously.
An Italian tourist, Lorenzo Taddei, 34, was killed when unidentified gunmen
opened fire on the bus he was traveling on. Four Indonesian passengers were
also hurt in the incident.
Finally, in August, came the attack that killed five villagers in Poso district
and which resulted in the pastor coming under police investigation. Five
churches were burned and hundreds of houses destroyed in the violence that
sparked immediate fears of a further escalation of the violence that has
plagued Poso since religious hostilities erupted in December 1998.
The wave of incidents came in the wake of a seemingly odd statement from
Jakarta that a small group of the army's Special Forces (Kopassus) had been
sent to the area to search for alleged foreign forces reportedly sighted by
In the course of the Bali investigation it was found that some foreigners had
indeed been training at Islamic "terror" camps in Sulawesi. Though there was no
suggestion that they had ever attacked local Christians, it was noted that
al-Qaeda had established a training camp in Indonesia and was assisting jihad
fighters in Maluku and Central Sulawesi. Even Christians were said to have run
training camps in Sulawesi.
To suggestions that the militant Laskar Jihad had been responsible for the
latest round of violence, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare Jusuf
Kalla, who has been an earnest and genuine player in the path to peace, simply
said at the time: "It is not their style."
Kalla, who chaired the peace talks, spoke with some authority as a native of
the region, but nonetheless, his dismissal of militants' involvement flew in
the face of established fact.
On April 26, the Laskar Jihad commander Jaffar Umar Thalib told several
thousand worshippers at the Alfatah Mosque in Ambon, "Our ... focus now must be
preparing for war."
Thirty-six hours later, 13 people, including two babies, lay dead in nearby
Soya village where some 30 Christian homes were razed to the ground and the
Protestant church left in ruins. Survivors of the Soya attack recounted hearing
the assailants, who wore face masks, speaking in Javanese and shouting "Allah
Akbar" (God is Great).
A week later Thalib, in a radio broadcast, told Muslims to "write out their
wills ... get out all your weapons ... [and] fight against them [the
Christians] to the last drop of blood". He was arrested a day later and charged
on suspicion of sowing religious hatred but later released to await trial.
During his subsequent trial in Jakarta last month, prosecutors recommended only
a one-year sentence on charges of inciting violence.
Church and aid groups believe the Sulawesi peace process remains balanced on a
knife-edge and Damanik's case will be pivotal in charting the eventual path to
The Crisis Center says that by comparison with the Thalib case, the decision to
proceed with Damanik's trial is a travesty of justice and they are pressing the
international community to urge Jakarta to intervene before tensions in the
area escalate. Mona Saroinsong, the Crisis Center coordinator, warns that "if
Muslims and Christians at the grassroots see injustice done, it will seriously
damage the peace process and the government's credibility".
On the other hand, she adds: "If the national government ensures that the case
is run fairly, it will restore both communities' faith in the government's
commitment to the peace process."
Mona Saroinsong says the police have tried to get Damanik to name names and may
use his case as an excuse to arrest other Christians whom they will harass to
try to implicate Damanik, as they have no real evidence.
The Crisis Center is calling on the international community to urge Jakarta to
investigate the actions of "corrupt and irresponsible regional authorities" and
to ensure the trial is run fairly and justly according to the law with no
pressure on the court to find Damanik guilty.
Another pastor, Reverend Jacky Manuputty, who has been a witness to earlier
attacks and was one of the delegates in the Malino peace talks, sums up what is
at stake and why Jakarta needs to act.
Saying that most Muslims and Christians in the Malukus know the violence must
stop so they can provide a future for the next generation, Manuputty concludes,
"We have to believe that the Malino agreement is still holding because we have
no choice. It has to succeed, otherwise the Malukus are finished. We are
begging the government to do their job and to implement the law-enforcement and
security provisions which they agreed to."
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