Mujahidin is not a Matter for the Military
There is no need for large-scale deployment of troops to Central Sulawesi. The killings by the East Indonesia Mujahidin group should be dealt with by the police.
IT is unthinkable for ordinary civilized people to behave like members of the group calling itself the East Indonesia Mujahidin, or MIT. They carry out random killings of farmers on the edges of the forests of South Sulawesi, regardless of the ethnicity or religion of their victims.
According to the Mosintiwu Institute, a civil peace organization in Poso and the surrounding area, the MIT carried out at least four sadistic murders in the region from January to November this year. The victims were Muslims, Christians and Hindus. All of them were farmers.
The latest atrocity by the MIT group which, according to police, is led by Ali Ahmad alias Ali Kalora, took place on November 27. The group set fire to seven homes—one of which was usually used as a house of worship for the Salvation Army Church. Four people died in the violence.
The MIT has reportedly carried out guerrilla activities in the last eight years in the jungles and villages of Poso, Parigi Moutong and Sigi Regencies, all of which border each other. Bloody conflicts between different religious communities afflicted the region, particularly Poso and Sigi, between 1998 and 2001. Local people immediately linked the November 27 attacks by the MIT with this dark history. However, according to research carried out by the Mosintiwu Institute, the crimes by this group appeared not to be targeted against a particular religious community.
The continued existence of the MIT for so many years in the region is surprising because since 2016, the government has deployed troops from the Indonesian Military (TNI) together with police officers in the Tinombala task force, which comprises around 3,000 personnel from the Police Mobile Brigade, the Army Strategic Reserves Command, Marines, Raiders and Special Forces Command.
The Tinombala task force shot dead Santoso, the MIT leader before Ali Kalora, in 2016. The security forces claimed that after the death of Santoso, membership of MIT declined. Despite this, Operation Tinombala was extended. According to the Mosintiwu Institute, local people have often fallen victim to stray bullets from the security forces. At least three farmers have died this way in 2020.
Local people are trapped. They are afraid of being labeled police informers by the MIT group. At the same time, they are frightened of being accused by the security forces of being members of the MIT. As a result, they have left their homes and the land that they cultivate. They are the main victims of the MIT group’s crimes, which have been accompanied by the large-scale deployment of security forces.
The government should reevaluate the deployment of troops to South Sulawesi, especially after their failure to protect local people who have been repeatedly attacked by the MIT group this year. The increase in the number of soldiers deployed to the region should not be continued.
The military should not yet be involved in responding to this terrorism. The Indonesian Military Law allows for military operations other than war, which can be interpreted as including anti-terror actions, but this type of operation must obtain the approval of the House of Representatives (DPR). The Anti-terror Law also allows for the involvement of the military in the war on terrorism, but the draft presidential regulation to implement this is still being deliberated by the DPR.
As a result, the military can only operate under the command of the police. And the presence of troops cannot be permanent—as is the case with Operation Tinombala—but should depend on the situation on the ground. This means the deployment of soldiers can only go ahead if there is the possibility that the police are unable to deal with the problem.
The series of attacks on farmers in Sigi by the MIT group cannot yet be categorized this way. Therefore, the police should try harder to arrest the people responsible for the killings.