Christians in Indonesia's Maluku islands fear extermination

Monday, July 31, 2000

31 July 2000 (Newsroom) -- Christians in Indonesia's Maluku islands say their community remains under threat of extermination by thousands of trained Jihad troops that have entered the region since May.

The Laskar Jihad, or Banner of Holy War, command announced over loudspeakers in the provincial capital of Ambon that it will kill all Christians who remain in the city after July 31, according to reports by church leaders given to the U.S. Southern Baptist Church mission board.

A prominent churchwoman who declined to be named for fear of reprisal told Ecumenical News International that "Jihad groups sent from outside" are wiping out the region's Christian community. The fighters are preparing lists of Christian leaders for "elimination," she said. "We are still confused, including ordinary Muslims, and ask why this is happening," the woman said during a meeting of the executive committee of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in Bangalore, India.

According to news reports, the Christian village of Waai on Ambon island was attacked over the weekend for a second time. A spokesman from the Maranatha church in Ambon city said at least one man was killed, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported. An attack earlier in July destroyed hundreds of houses, leaving only about a dozen standing. Waai is on the eastern coast of the island, about 25 miles northeast of Ambon city.

About 90 percent of the Christians in Ambon have fled amid continuing mortar fire and bomb attacks, the Baptists said. More than 15,000 refugees are waiting along the piers of Halong naval base to board any ship leaving Ambon. Many more await transport at other seaside areas under Christian control. This is the rainy season in Ambon, and the refugees are "wet, hungry, inadequately clothed, suffering from all kinds of illnesses, and intimidated in their spirits," the Baptists said.

On Sunday authorities in the far eastern Indonesian province of Irian Jaya impounded a ferry carrying more than 1,000 refugees fleeing the Maluku islands. Passengers with no identity documents have been barred from landing, and the ship will remain anchored at sea until the central Indonesia government decides what to do with them. Local authorities say they are waiting for Jakarta to outline its plans for the hundreds of thousands of refugees that have fled the Malukus for other parts of Indonesia.

U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright promised Saturday to try to help Indonesia end the Maluku conflict. After a meeting in Bangkok with Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab, Albright told reporters that the minister "talked about the importance of trying to get some of the troublemakers out of there, and we said that we would look at how the international community could be of assistance.''

A delegation of church leaders from Maluku recently traveled to Europe to plead for foreign intervention. In a written appeal to the presidency of the European Union, the Moluccan church leaders claimed that since January 1999 more than 4,000 people have been killed and 350,000 displaced in the conflict.

The Uniting Church in Australia, which has partner churches in the Maluku region, has called on Indonesia to invite the United Nations to "facilitate the evacuation of victims of violence in the Maluku islands to safe havens" and "participate in the restoration of law and order and the reconciliation of warring factions."

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