Christians in Indonesia's Moluccas fear 'religious cleansing'

Monday, May 8, 2000

8 May 2000 (Newsroom) -- Christian communities in Indonesia's Moluccas fear the onslaught of "religious cleansing" as some 3,000 extremist Muslim fighters prepare to converge on the archipelago, according to a British-based group that recently returned from a fact-finding mission. Many families already have fled to other islands as predominantly Christian villages have been razed, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) said.

According to news reports, the fighters were gathered in the port of Surbaya in East Java on Sunday, but most were delayed because no ferries were available. Indonesia's moderate Muslim President Abdurrahman Wahid has threatened "stern action'' against anyone pursuing a jihad. Since January 1999, more than 3,000 Muslims and Christians have died in sectarian violence and hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced.

The CSW team, which met with political, military, religious, and community leaders in Jakarta and in the Moluccas, was told that the jihad fighters have been funded by Islamists from Indonesia and the Middle East to discredit the Wahid regime. A Muslim member of Parliament described the jihad as a "humanitarian mission," but the fighters are known to have spend weeks in military-style training in a camp in Bogor, West Java, according to news reports.

In a survey of the aftermath of previous attacks, CSW said that 20 out of 25 Christian villages on Buru Island have been razed, and an estimated 8,000 survivors are hiding in the jungle without adequate shelter, food, or health care. The group also heard evidence of numerous atrocities against Christian communities, such as the massacre of employees in a plywood factory in Buru and the slaughter of a pupil and teacher at a Sunday School camp in Ambon.

CSW also visited Ambon Island and Haruku Island, which was attacked in January by extremist Muslim fighters who reportedly killed 18 civilians and burned down homes and the local church. The team visited some of the hundreds of displaced villagers who live "in dire conditions" in the jungle.

The British group said that little humanitarian aid is reaching the many people across the islands whose conditions are extremely harsh. CSW notes that both Muslim and Christian communities are suffering from the conflict, but Christians maintain that media in the Muslim-majority country have falsely labeled them as the only aggressors in the conflict. CSW says "this misleading assertion further fuels aggression against the Christians by jihad warriors, who feel obliged to defend their 'victimized' communities."

CSW President Baroness Caroline Cox has urged the Indonesian government to allow for an independent fact-finding mission that would help lay the groundwork for reconciliation and peace. She suggested the formation of a team comprised of representatives of the European Parliament or of an independent ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) member such as Thailand.

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