Since the downfall of the dictator Suharto in 1998, Indonesia has become infamous for its ethnic and religious conflicts. They have extended from Kalimantan, where dayaks beheaded Madurese migrants, to Maluku and Sulawesi, where Christians and Muslims attacked each other, killing thousands. Many of the conflicts arose from ethnic, religious or economic tensions that simmered for decades under Suharto. They were exacerbated by authoritarian government policies such as the transmigration scheme - which moved hundreds of thousands of Javanese to Kalimantan, Sulawesi and other islands, and gave them better land, housing and facilities than the indigenous residents possessed. Once ignited, the conflicts were hard to extinguish. Corrupt military and police were often blamed for prolonging the violence, because they often took sides, and had weak chains of command. Also blamed for these failures were governors and mayors, who often had little idea of how to control a conflict - once they were denied the option of shooting every rioter. The governors and bupati (regents) - mostly ex-military commanders appointed by Suharto, or else stalwarts in Suharto's Golkar party - were accustomed to using the military to quell any dissent or outbreak of violence during his rule. So it is strange to see President Megawati Sukarnoputri reverting to the Suharto-era tactic of favouring retired generals as candidates for governor, in every province where her party holds power. Five years into the pro-democratic reformasi (reform) movement, Ms Megawati still favours retired generals for office, no matter how unpopular they are - or how poor their record in quelling local crises. She still seems convinced they can prevent riots and demonstrations. But this is producing serious setbacks for Indonesia's gradual transition to a civilian-run government. Sidney Jones, Indonesia director for International Crisis Group, an international think-tank, said: 'It is dangerous to promote army officers as the only people who can prevent and manage conflict, based on the concept that only the military can hold Indonesia together. This is throwing the process of democratisation to the wind.' Instead of fostering new leaders coming up from each region, Ms Megawati has even gone as far as to threaten to expel one politician from her own Democratic Party of Struggle. He insisted on running for a governorship in central Java after being nominated by the regional party board. A recent report from the International Crisis Group indicates why Ms Megawati's thwarting of popular politicians' attempts to become governors and bupatis is so damaging. The report analysed the success of government decentralisation in averting or pacifying violent conflicts since 1998, and hails the region of Luwu, in South Sulawesi, as a success. Luwu's district leaders - civilians rather than military men elected by local parliament - had notable successes in preventing as well as resolving conflicts. A major reason for this was that they had good connections not just with the elite, but also with grass-roots organisations, said Mr Jones. 'One of the interesting things about pemekaran (decentralisation) in Luwu is how it can throw up new and interesting leaders,' he said. 'If the government kills that off by putting in military officers as district or regional leaders, it is stifling the chance for civilian leaders to come forth, not only now, but for some time in the future.'