The failure of basic institutions of local government, justice, and law enforcement allowed a street fight, feeding on underlying tensions and likely provocation, to develop into a broad social conflict. Fights between youth at a market or terminal involving alcohol are common in Indonesia: there have been several recent incidents of fights between migrants and locals at Palu markets that quickly led to a day or two of fighting and destroying several houses. However, after several days, conditions returned to normal.193 The underlying conditions of local political struggles, religious divisions, and economic tensions that fueled the conflict in Poso are unfortunately also common. But in Poso the police, the army, and the courts could not or would not restrain the ever-increasing violence. As a result, the conflict became widespread and entrenched, involving thousands of fighters and perhaps 1,000 deaths over four years. There are indications of deliberate provocation, during the early phases in particular. But the question remains, what allowed these efforts to provoke violence so effectively, and why were there no effective measures to stop it?
There were many missed opportunities, such as after the first and second phases. A commitment by Jakarta and Palu to fund rehabilitation, together with an adequate and unbiased police and military presence capable of stopping or arresting perpetrators of violence, would have greatly reduced the likelihood of future conflict. Once the violence became widespread, there were numerous attacks that took place over several days, with forced marches over many miles, with little effective response from the police. Although both sides were said to have run training camps with the help of retired military, the conflict was enlarged further when Laskar Jihad, a well-armed, well-organized group of outsiders was allowed to enter the district, train fighters, and lead attacks.
Administration of justice was sporadic and inconsistent, with a handful of weapons arrests prosecuted despite the hundreds of documented deaths. Inconsistency in charges and sentencing left both sides convinced they were treated unfairly. The Tibo case, one of the few efforts to hold someone directly responsible for the deaths, was marked by a threatening environment and dubious witnesses.
Both sides feel that the Malino Declaration, despite its flaws, provided an opportunity to end an exhausting conflict. The government at last put resources and clout behind the peace process. But important questions about accountability and the status of outside groups remain unresolved. The government of Indonesia and the international community must be sure to adequately monitor and support the agreement to foster reconciliation efforts, particularly through the prosecution of perpetrators of past violence.