Indonesia has all but decimated the Eastern Indonesia Mujahideen (MIT), a band of militants once considered the nation’s most deadly domestic terror group.
But in the waning months of a massive security operation in Central Sulawesi where the MIT is based, humanitarian workers and rights activists are joining efforts to persuade 14 people still hiding in the jungles of Poso Regency to turn themselves in.
National Human Rights Commission (Komnas HAM) chief Imdadun Rahmat traveled to the provincial capital of Palu this week to underline the need for humane treatment of prisoners.
“We continue to support and encourage the government initiative to restore the losses suffered by the community following the conflict in Poso, and urge good treatment of those prisoners who were captured alive,” Imdadun told reporters here Wednesday.
“The main point is, no more blood in Poso. We are taking these steps together, prioritizing a persuasive approach,” Central Sulawesi police chief Brig. Gen. Rudy Sufahriadi said as he repeated appeals for the remaining militants to give up.
Officials have approached relatives of remaining MIT members to assure them that those who surrender will not be deprived of their rights, he said.
“Certainly we will treat them well, whether they are captured or surrender during the operation,” Rudy said.
MIT holdouts include women
Estimated to have about 32 members in early 2016, the MIT is now less than half that size, officials said. Holdouts include two of the group’s leaders, Basri (alias Bagong) and Ali Kalora, and their wives.
Hundreds of security personnel have been on the ground in remote Poso regency since January 2015 in two operations code-named Camar Maleo and Tinombala.
Security forces killed 14 MIT members, including six ethnic Uyghurs, in 2016. Seven were killed in 2015, and another 31 captured.
In July of this year, Indonesia confirmed that its most wanted militant – MIT leader Santoso – had been shot dead.
Santoso, who had pledged allegiance to the extremist group Islamic State (IS), died in a shootout with security forces in Poso on July 18, police said.
Officials vowed to prolong a security operation aimed at capturing or killing the remnants of the MIT. That operation is scheduled to continue for two more months.
Local police and rights activists say they have received intelligence that the holdouts are willing to surrender, but they are afraid to do so.
After capture or surrender, MIT members will be put in de-radicalization programs, National Counterterrorism Agency (BNPT) chief Suhardi Alius said in Palu on Wednesday.
Community members will be involved in this process, not just religious scholars and government officials, he added.
He described it as an intensive program designed “so that it can really provide therapy for those who have been exposed to radicalization.”
Several other activists and public figures have come to the region to join the efforts and assist local communities traumatized by years of violence.
The group includes members of the medical charity Medical Emergency Rescue Committee (Mer-C). Team 13, as it has been dubbed, is already in Poso but unwilling to talk to the press.
Over the past two years, rights activists from the Central Sulawesi Institute for Legal Studies and Human Rights Advocacy (LPS-HAM Sulteng) often protested when security forces killed suspected militants instead of capturing them alive.
They also criticized security forces for failing to capture Santoso and the two other MIT leaders over 18 months.
After Santoso was killed, the chief of LPS-HAM Sulteng, Mohd Affandi, called for a halt to security sweeps.
“If the military operation stops, Team 13 can freely move on the field. Unfortunately the operation is still in progress, so the team will automatically get trouble,” Affandi told BenarNews.
Locals in the impoverished area have been trapped between armed militants and security forces.
“Farmers did not go to work because of they were worried if there is a clash between armed civilian groups and security forces,” Celebes Institute Director Adriany Badrah once said.
In September 2015, three farmers were decapitated in Central Sulawesi’s Parigi Moutong regency. Officials said Santoso’s group was likely behind the killings and urged farmers to suspend agricultural activities for the time being.
Prior to the rise of IS and its spread in the archipelago, MIT was seen as the most dangerous terror group on Indonesian soil, a remnant of Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), the network that carried out the 2002 and 2005 Bali bombings.
Hundreds of Indonesians have gone to Iraq and Syria to join IS, and an IS-claimed attack in Jakarta in Jan. 2015 left eight dead.