Indonesia's military rolls out plan to improve lives of Sulawesi residents affected by terrorist threat

Indonesian youth from a young entrepreneurs group take part in the "Bela Negara" programme at a military camp in Makassar, South Sulawesi on April 24, 2016.
Indonesian youth from a young entrepreneurs group take part in the "Bela Negara" programme at a military camp in Makassar, South Sulawesi on April 24, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

JAKARTA - The Indonesian military (TNI) is rolling out a plan aimed at improving the lives of Sulawesi residents affected by the threat of terrorism from the East Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT).

Militants from the terror group and its leader Santoso, who have been hiding out in Poso regency in Central Sulawesi, are the subject of the largest manhunt in Indonesia.

The spillover violence from their activities have resulted in some hardship for people living in the central and northern parts of the island.

Major-General Agus Surya Bakti, whose military command covers Central Sulawesi and Gorontalo provinces in Sulawesi, said on Saturday (June 4) that the latest initiative is focused on enhancing the welfare of the local community.

Apart from counter-terrorism operations against Santoso and the MIT, the military will also help create jobs, develop new fields for farming as well as build bridges and roads.

Maj-Gen Agus added that a key plank of the initiative is its agricultural programme, which includes, among other things, providing local farmers with hand-tractors to assist in plowing and better quality seeds.

He also revealed a partnership between the military and the Agriculture Ministry to free up at least 3,000ha of land for farming.

"The territorial operation is meant to improve the welfare of the Poso area... which have been known for its violence," said Maj-Gen Agus, reported the Jakarta Globe on Sunday (June 5).

Some 3,500 troops from the TNI and the police have been deployed to comb the jungles and mountainous areas of Poso in search of the MIT and Santoso, regarded as Indonesia's most-wanted terrorist.

The group is said to have pledged its allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militant group in the Middle East.

Gunfights between security forces and the guerillas during Operation Tinombala have resulted in public unease among Poso regency residents, National Counter-terrorism Agency chief Tito Karnavian reportedly said last Thursday.

Indonesia's Education Minister Anies Baswedan said last week that teachers in Poso have reportedly boycotted school over fears of violence from the MIT.

"Many teachers have left schools," Mr Anies was quoted by Tempo news as saying on Friday. "The data has yet to be available but there are indications of that."

Gen Tito has called for Santoso and his men to come out of hiding for the sake of public security. "If the group's members really care for the people, they must come down and face the legal procedures," he said.

Santoso has managed to evade capture, but the long-running operation has seen some success with security forces cutting the group down to about 22 militants after some were killed or arrested.

Gen Tito, however, acknowledged that the thick jungles and mountainous terrain has hampered the manhunt for Santoso and his group.