Church leaders appeal for foreign intervention in Indonesia's Moluccas conflict

Thursday, July 20, 2000

20 July 2000 (Newsroom) -- Leaders of Christian communities who report they are under attack by jihad warriors in Indonesia's Maluku islands are seeking emergency help from Europe.

A delegation of Protestant and Catholic leaders from the islands, also known as the Moluccas, met with European Parliament members and European Union leaders in Brussels this week amid continuing reports of attacks by extremist Muslim troops. The jihad fighters have come from outside the region with the stated aim of driving Christians out of the islands, the church leaders say.

On Wednesday, an Indonesian senior official conceded for the first time that the situation is so grave that international peacekeepers might be necessary if the country could not quickly stop the violence. General Rusdihardjo, Indonesia's police chief, said the government objects to foreign troops, but intervention would "be very difficult to avoid" if the conflict does not end soon. Earlier this week President Abdurrahman Wahid said limited non-military international help might be required.

In an 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. The leaders said the "Moluccas, once a showcase of religious harmony in Indonesia, now lies in ruins."

This week more than 100 houses have been burned down in Ambon, the provincial capital of Maluku province, and thousands of people have fled to the hills and mountains. The church delegation, hosted by the British human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), appealed to Europe to help ensure the evacuation of refugees to a safer location in Indonesia; to open a humanitarian aid corridor to deliver assistance to Christian and Muslim communities; to send an emergency European delegation to the area; and to immediately remove all jihad militants from the Moluccas.

The leaders also met in London with British government leaders and addressed an emergency meeting of representatives of Christian denominations in the United Kingdom.

Meanwhile, churches from the Moluccas' neighbor to the south, Australia, are calling on the 10-member Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) to send peacekeepers to the islands or take the lead in sending United Nations peacekeepers.

On Wednesday, Indonesian Foreign Minister Alwi Shihab said he will tell ASEAN, which meets next week in Bangkok, and other nations to stay out of the conflict. "If the international community insists on intervening, our society would not accept such a thing," Shihab told the English-language Indonesian Observer.

Government leaders in Jakarta have expressed indignation about the foreign intervention in East Timor last year and say that permitting foreign troops in the country could lead to its disintegration.

Moluccan church leaders, however, charging that Indonesian military troops have sided with the militants, insist the government is only making the situation worse. Catholic Bishop Jos Tethool, auxiliary of Ambon, said in a report on Wednesday that the state of "civil emergency launched by the central government appears more and more counterproductive. We were expecting it would bring peace and instead Muslims attack more violently then ever, even in the inner city." The bishop said the local Christians are "frightened of these mostly unreliable forces who involve themselves in the conflict, specifically choosing the side of the Muslim jihad troops."

Tethool warned in his report: "People in town fear that within one or two days new Muslim attacks will be launched, there being nothing and nobody to stop them in their apparent ultimate goal which seems to be the devastation (and humiliation?) of Ambon and the annihilation of all that is Christian."

Tethool reported that a Christian was beheaded July 15 in Ambon's Protestant majority area of Ponegono Atas, which had been under siege for three days. In clashes that evening eight Christians were killed and the Protestant church of Sejahtera was burned, he said.

On Thursday, Protestant and Catholic Church leaders from the islands appealed to Christians worldwide to observe an International Day of Prayer and Fasting for the Moluccas on July 30, according to the British-based Jubilee Campaign.

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