Massacres Continue in Eastern Indonesia

Saturday, December 2, 2000

Authorities Admit Failure to Expel Jihad Fighters from the Malukus

by Alex Buchan

LONDON (Compass) -- Maluku's head of police admitted that authorities cannot dislodge the hundreds of Muslim jihad fighters scattered throughout eastern Indonesia's Maluku province and who have escalated the inter-religious conflict as Christmas approaches. More than 100 Christians were reported killed in November fighting.

Christians are bracing for further violence as Muslim extremists announced a "Let's Snuff Out all the Candles in December" campaign, vowing to stamp out Christianity on the island of Halmahera in northern Maluku. The leader of the jihad forces, Mr. Jaffar Umar Thalib, speaking in Jakarta on November 15, said the moment had come to introduce Islamic law in Maluku. (The Maluku island chain is also known as the Moluccas.)

The November violence centered around two areas. On the island of Keswui, southwest of the large island of Ceram, four Christian villages were attacked between November 23 and 26 by 3,000 Muslim fighters. Afterwards a total of 54 Christians lay dead, eight were wounded, and three churches and 374 houses were burned.

In the village of Karlomin alone, 50 were killed. More than 270 Christians fled the island, but about 625 are in hiding in the island's forests. The situation of those in hiding is causing great concern. According to Christian attorney Mr. Sammy Wailerung, Christians were being forced to convert to Islam when hunger drove them from the forest. He claimed 20 Christians had already converted and been circumcised.

The second outbreak of violence took place in the village of Kairatu, in the southwest of Ceram on November 28. Again, 50 Christians were killed. The Muslim force had arrived from the nearby island of Gemba, and army units who followed them there disarmed them. Representatives of the jihad fighters then surrounded the governor's house on Ambon, demanding the arms be returned. Soldiers killed two of the protesters, and Christians are bracing for more revenge attacks.

A Seventh-day Adventist Church in Galala, Ambon, was burned down on November 28. According to an Adventist source, "The members of the congregation are too scared to go out of doors or snipers will pick them off, but they have run out of food."

As the situation deteriorates, little relief seems forthcoming. Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid told Catholic delegates to a Grand Synod on November 7 that he had been shocked by the inter-religious violence, and mused that religion in the country had been "trivialized" and reduced to superficial rituals and sloganeering. Wahid admitted that major tension between modernist and traditionalist Muslims may in part be driving the conflict.

On November 15, the leader of the Maluku jihad forces, Thalib, spoke directly to the Indonesian press for the first time. "We intend during this Ramadan to do sweeping on "tempat maksiat" (places of sin) in the North Moluccas, and carry out various activities paving the way for full "sharia" (Islamic law), at least in places that have become exclusively Islam," the "Jurnal Islam" newspaper reported him as saying.

Police Chief Firman Gani admitted to a group of Christian youth at the Ambon Salvation Army Church in Mardika, Ambon, on December 1 that it was impossible to oust the jihad fighters, first, because they had merged into the local Muslim population so the army could not spot them. But he also admitted that there was political pressure not to send them back "because of the consequences to the rest of Indonesia" -- an indication that the Jakarta government is out to contain the fighting in Maluku. He also lamented that the Jakarta government did little to stop these fighters boarding ferries bound for Maluku.

Estimates of the numbers of Muslim fighters on the islands vary widely. The police chief said there are 800. The governor's office said there are 1,300. But Mr. Sammy Walieruny, the chairman of a team of Protestant lawyers, claimed the number is just over 14,000.

"This will be the hardest Christmas yet," a pastor in Ambon city said. "Last year the conflict moved into a higher gear, and all the signs suggest this will be the case again. Let the world know of our plight. We are just hanging on. It is hard to have courage. Pray for us."

Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.