Tolikara Regent: If only the police chief had listened to me...

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  • Tolikara Regent Usman G. Wanimbo (right). TEMPO/Cunding Levi.

    Tolikara Regent Usman G. Wanimbo (right). TEMPO/Cunding Levi.

    TEMPO.CO, Jakarta - A bloody incident exploded at Tolikara district in Papua two weeks ago. It happened when hundreds of people taking part at a seminar and an international spiritual service organized by the Indonesian Evangelical Church (GIDI), tried to disperse a number of local residents about to conduct their Idul Fitri prayers at the Tolikara Military Command field.

    The incident which resulted in the burning of shopes and the Baitul Muttaqin mosque, according Tolikara Regent Usman G. Wanimbo, occurred because of police neglect. He admitted that he had suggested to Tolikara Police precinct chief, Adj. Sr. Comr. Soeroso to held the community prayers elsewhere. "But he didn't listen to me," Wanimbo told Tempo reporter Maria Hasugian, when she twice interviewed him last week.

    Why was there violence?

    I flew to Jakarta on Sunday morning, five days before the riots. The following Monday, I told Tolikara Police Chief Soeroso that I had received a letter from the elders of the Tolikara GIDI. Essentially, the letter contained a ban on Idul Fitri prayers at Tolikara. The GIDI elders asked that the Id prayers be carried out in Wamena or Jayapura, to avoid any untoward incidents. The students attending the seminar and the international spiritual workshop, who recalled the closure of churches outside Papua, were disappointed. That was why the Tolikara GIDI issued an edict dated July 11. I asked that it be revised to say that the Id prayers can be held at Karubaga but at the musholla (small mosque). I conveyed that message to the Tolikara police chief.

    Why at the musholla?

    So that it would not create problems. Prayers taking place outside, especially with the use of loudspeakers, was not allowed. The Muslim community knew that. It's an understanding that has existed for years. Hence my suggestion to the police chief, which he failed to do.

    Did the police chief inform you of the venue change for the prayers?

    He did not inform me, there was no communication between us until the riots happened.

    (To Tempo, Soeroso admitted that during the previous years, Idul Fitri prayers were held outside on the police precinct grounds because the musholla could no longer accomodate everyone. He guaranteed security).

    What should have been done if the venue was changed?

    To organize Id prayers at the military command area, a request should be submitted to the district military commander. I known there was activity there, even though I was not informed of it. Meanwhile, there were about 2,000 youths attending GIDI event. About 150 of them headed towards the Id prayer area to stop the loudspeaker. They intended to take it down, because it continued to be blaring. Then a short was heard, seemingly to disperse the youths and stop them from throwing rocks.

    Did the police chief take part in the Id prayers?

    Yes, he did. He was there as the security officer. But it turned out to be no guarantee.

    Where were you when all this happened?

    I was asleep on my desk, it was 3am.

    How did you know there was rioting?

    I heard the loudspeaker, and there was something strange about it. It turned out to be announcing the prayers. I was shocked, it was never like this. The kids made noises, I ran towards the prayer venue, still wearing my pajamas.

    Were you aware that the police were not armed, as explained by the police chief?

    That's right but if I had opened up more, it would have been worse.

    What do you mean by worse?

    If they were not armed, where did the gunshot come from? No army personnel were out, they were asked to guard the military complex.

    (Soeroso claimed the people no longer respected the regent and the police chief. According to procedures, Soeroso ordered warning shots.) (*)

    Read the full interview in this week's edition of Tempo English Magazine