Ready for Reconciliation in Indonesia?

Friday, November 10, 2000

Christians and Muslims in the Malukus Move Toward Peace Talks

Special to Compass Direct

AMBON, Indonesia (Compass) -- "It is disappointing that the suffering of the Christians due to the conflict in the Malukus has been insufficiently exposed in various reports on a national and international level," stated the U.S. Consul General Robert Pollard.

Pollard was in Ambon, in eastern Indonesia, to meet with representatives of the Muslim and Christian communities.

As a consequence of the one-sided reporting, the conflict was often perceived as savagery by the Christians upon the Muslim community and served to provoke an aggressive response from Muslim communities outside the Malukus, he added.

The consul general stressed the importance of a sincere dialogue between conflicting parties without any preconditions. He affirmed that the United States was opposed to official international intervention to end the conflict, which he said could backfire and end up creating a worse situation.

Recent reports confirm a new willingness on behalf of both Christians and Muslims to enter into dialogue. On October 19, at the opening of the academic year for Pattimura University -- now held at Manggadua since the university was burned down -- police commander-in-chief Firman Gani stressed the need for an immediate dialogue between Muslims and Christians, starting with dialogue among the students.

Meanwhile, vice governor of the Malukus, Paula Renyaan, who had returned from a visit to the Kei Islands of southeast Maluku, said that fear for their children had caused the islanders to seek reconciliation. The violence that broke out on the Kei Islands in April 1999 caused many casualties and a great deal of damage to buildings and property. But a strong tradition of living harmoniously, the influence of the local rajas (kings) and spiritual leaders, and the thought of destroying the future of their children had prompted the people to begin a dialogue.

The chairman of the Islamic Front for the Defense of the Malukus, Husni Outuhena, urged all those involved in the conflict not to allow religious differences to be used for political purposes. "Christians and Muslims should respect each other's religion," he stated in the "Suara Maluku" newspaper.

A similar call was made by the interim dean of the Pattimura University law faculty, Yanes Leatemia, who said that religious differences had been used by certain politicians to accomplish their own political goals. He called for all outsiders meddling in the affairs of the Malukus to be excluded from any dialogue between the factions.

A human rights agency in Ambon has been set up by the National Commission for Human Rights. With two locally recruited assistants, one Muslim and one Christian, the agency hopes to act as a mediator between the two sides to end the conflict, and also deal with the violation of human rights.

However, some feel that while violence is still being perpetrated, any efforts at dialogue can only fail.

On the island of Saparua, to the east of Ambon, the assault on the Christian villages of Ulath and Ouw continues. In the early morning of October 26, several thousand attackers coming from Sirisori Islam used mortars, grenades, Molotov cocktails and automatic weapons in an attempt to raze the villages. "Suara Maluku" reported one 50-year-old resident and one policeman were killed and three others were injured. The attackers were repulsed after they managed to burn down at least five houses.

An attack on October 22 occurred when a force of armed Muslims came to Ulath as the people were preparing to go to church. When this attack was repulsed, the aggressors who came from Sirisori Islam turned their attention to the village of Sirisori Kristen, which had been attacked previously. Fifteen houses were burned and a previously-damaged church was destroyed.

On the island of Seram, to the north of Ambon, the Christian village of Ahiolo in the Kairatu area came under attack on October 14. A large force of Muslims from the villages of Latu and Hualoi arrived at Ahiolo early in the morning and began to burn houses and shoot at residents. With the assistance of others from neighboring villages, the residents were able to repulse the attackers, but not before 46 houses, a school and a clinic had been destroyed. Five Christian villagers were killed, and a seven-year-old boy was abducted.

The following day, a large force of armed Muslims in the Kairatu area intercepted a bus and set it on fire. Three of the 23 passengers were seriously wounded. On October 23, an attack was launched against the Christian town of Kairatu. At least 17 houses were destroyed.

Ambon continues to experience periods of great tension. During the night of October 23, a large group of armed Muslims from the Waihaong district headed towards Batugantung and Kampung Kolam only to be met by marines, who forced them to retreat.

On October 25 at about 1 a.m., an attack was launched on Gunung Nona (Maiden Mountain) in the west of Ambon city where the television station is situated, and on Upper Benteng and Airsalobar. The attackers, who came from the Muslim enclave of Pohon Mangga, were repulsed by security forces who then carried out weapons sweeps and arrested 12 people.

The twelve were non-Malukans, between 18 and 23 in age, originating mostly from Java Island. Confiscated materials included both military issue and homemade guns, grenades, grenade launchers, cans of petrol, bulletproof vests and other combat materials.

The arrests and accusations that the prisoners were stripped and beaten provoked demonstrations in Ambon and shootings on the opposite shore of the bay. One person was wounded while traveling on a speedboat across the bay. A petrol storage place was targeted in Wayame and a Christian house was burned in Airsalobar.

A military spokesman dismissed the accusations of mistreatment but said that an investigation would be made. It was his belief that provocateurs had used the arrests to whip up emotions in the Islamic communities.