Police Defend Tactics after Deadly Shootout

PALU, Central Sulawesi ~ Police defended their tactics on Wednesday after a raid for suspected Islamic militants triggered a shootout that left 14 dead in the restive town of Poso.

Police were searching for people wanted in connection with a series of anti-Christian attacks in Poso district on Sulawesi island when the violence erupted on Monday morning.

One policeman and 13 other people were killed and scores wounded, with a group of students protesting on Wednesday against the “heavy-handed” tactics.

Central Sulawesi Police spokesman Dadang Muharram said officers had exercised restraint for months while requesting the suspects surrender.

“Police had asked religious leaders and families of the wanted people to facilitate their surrender for the past three months,” he told the students.

“We have taken enough time to investigate before raiding (their hideouts),” Muharram said.

Deputy national police chief Makbul Padmanegara stressed that the people killed included armed militants who had trained abroad.

“We know that at least one of the people killed was trained in Afghanistan; we are investigating where the rest were trained,” he told reporters in Jakarta.

Police were also investigating where arms seized during the raid came from.

The protesting students marched in the provincial capital of Palu, carrying posters saying: “Police stop being a monster in Poso.”

They also demanded that the national and regional police chiefs step down and the withdrawal of paramilitary police from outside the province.

An additional 200 paramilitary police reinforcements arrived in Poso on Tuesday to enforce security following the shootout.

Padmanegara said they “were sent to Poso to replace personnel that were scheduled to leave.”

National police spokesman Bambang Hendarso Danuri said two people on the wanted list surrendered on Wednesday while three others surrendered on Tuesday.

Police and residents had clashed several times in recent days in the area, where several suspects were believed to be hiding.

They have been accused of involvement in several violent incidents in religiously divided Poso since 2001, including the 2005 beheadings of three Christian schoolgirls, inciting mob violence and several bombings of markets and churches.

Sporadic unrest has continued in Poso and the surrounding district since it became a focal point of violence between Muslims and Christians that claimed about 1,000 lives in 2000-2001.

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