Stunning Sulawesi

[In 1975 I went backpacking through the central highlands, including the village of Poso, on the tropical Indonesian island of Sulawesi. The capital of the island is the old Dutch colonial port of Makassa. By then it was renamed Ujung-Pandang, which means “bunches of pineapples” or so I was led to believe.
I just read the report which follows and felt deeply saddened because, aside from the violence which was absent when I was travelling there, Poso and the little villages along the trails up there are so beautiful. There are hot springs all over the place and steep, dramatic spires of granite marking the terraced paddyfields like church steeples. At night fireflies are everywhere and easy to catch and release. The religion there seemed more animist(?) than any common faith. I also drove a motorbike around helping a Swiss photographer with his hassleblad (?) camera take shots of these amazing escarpments. We climbed up this steep hillock to get closer to the sheer cliff face into which were cut galleries on which sat hard-wood effigies dressed in the clothes of the people who had worn them before they died. Then some kids came up to us and dragged a couple of bones out of the hillside and threw them into the encroaching jungle. I looked down and on much closer observation, saw human sculls. We were standing on a funeral mound which was gigantic. Must have been many hundreds of years old. It was a weird but wonderful journey which I’ll remember for all the right reasons. kk]

By Achmad Sukarsono
JAKARTA, Jan 24 Reuters - Indonesia has sent 200 elite police to enforce security in the troubled Poso region of Sulawesi island after 14 people were killed during a raid on a suspected Muslim militant hideout, police said today.
Officials defended Monday’s raids in downtown Poso after criticism from Islamic groups and some local media that innocent people were killed in the gunfire that erupted between the suspected militants and police.
PKS (Prosperous Justice Party) regrets the Poso incident because many victims have fallen, particularly people who have no link to the dispute,'' said Tifatul Sembiring, head of the PKS, an Islamic party and part of the government coalition. But Badrodin Haiti, police chief of Central Sulawesi, said there was evidence that security forces had been attacked with illegal firearms. Jakarta has sent 200 more policemen to help. We are searching thoroughly in the jungles for possible injured people and bombs that could endanger the community,’’ Haiti told Reuters.
The bodies of two suspected militants found in nearby bushes today took the death toll to 14. A policeman was among the dead.
Police had arrested 25 suspected militants and seized ammunition and bombs from the militant base.
On Monday, Haiti said some of those who fought the police were trained in Afghanistan and the southern Philippines.
Poso has been tense since the execution of three Christian militants in September over their role in Muslim-Christian violence in the region from 1998 to 2001.
Three years of sectarian violence in Central Sulawesi killed more than 2,000 people before a peace accord took effect in late 2001. There has been sporadic violence since.
Police said that more than 20 Muslim militants wanted in connection with past attacks, including the 2005 beheadings of Christian girls, were still on the loose.
Indonesia’s deputy police chief Makbul Padmanegara told reporters in Jakarta the operation in Poso was not targeted against Muslims.
What we are doing is not against the Muslim community but against those who committed crimes,'' he said. Perpetrators are hiding behind the religious community and terrorising witnesses.’’
In October, an armed group clashed with police and set fire to a Christian church in Poso, while a Christian priest was shot in Palu, sparking fears of a return to sectarian violence.
Around 85 per cent of Indonesia’s 220 million people follow Islam, but some areas in eastern Indonesia such as Poso have roughly equal numbers of Muslim and Christians.