Fri, 14 Jan 2000

Calm returns to Maluku, claims government

JAKARTA (JP): The government claimed on Thursday to have restored order in riot-torn Maluku and was now considering reconstruction and reconciliation there.

Coordinating Minister for Political Affairs and Security Gen. Wiranto said certain security measures, including an isolation of the sea surrounding the islands, remained in place to prevent a new outbreak of violence.

"The present situation out there is considered conducive to start rehabilitation and reconciliation, although physical and nonphysical isolations are still needed," Wiranto said after a meeting on Maluku, which was presided over by Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

A number of Cabinet ministers, Indonesian Military (TNI) Commander Adm. Widodo Adisucipto, National Police chief Lt. Gen. Roedihardjo and leaders of religious and social organizations also attended the meeting.

Megawati has been assigned by President Abdurrahman Wahid to seek a solution to the year-long sectarian clashes which have raged across Maluku.

Outside the vice presidential palace on Jl. Merdeka Selatan, where the meeting was held, some 300 activists of the Defenders of Islam (FPI) staged a fresh rally to demand the government immediately settle the Maluku upheaval and that Megawati return to Maluku to initiate the efforts.

Dozens of riot police kept the demonstrators from the vice presidential office.

Wiranto said reconstruction projects of mosques and churches, which were either attacked or burned during the conflict, would top the priority of the rehabilitation program.

"There should be no more scenes of burned mosques and churches. It is sad to see that," he said.

Wiranto said the situation in Maluku had gradually calmed, thanks to the heavy presence of security personnel. A total of 15 battalions of reinforcement military troops and two battalions of the National Police's Mobile Brigade have been sent to the restive territory to help the local security authorities stop the violence.

Wiranto said order had returned, although not completely, to Tobelo and Galela in North Maluku, where hundreds were reportedly killed in a wave of clashes recently. The neighboring town of Jailolo remained tense, but Wiranto promised peace would be restored soon.

He denied media reports that communal clashes had spread to Morotai island, which abuts the Philippines.

"In fact there has been no conflict there. Everything is okay based on our field observations," he said.

Wiranto said the government would seclude Maluku from the media which was feared to fish in troubled waters for certain political interests. He did not elaborate on whether a media blackout would be imposed in Maluku.

Earlier in the day, Widodo, fresh from his trip to Maluku, admitted that several minor clashes had occurred, despite the presence of security troops.

"The neutral stance displayed by military personnel in the field has helped prevent further conflicts," Widodo said after an Idul Fitri celebration at TNI Headquarters in East Jakarta.

Army Chief of Staff Gen. Tyasno Sudarto called on people in Maluku to cooperate with the security personnel to cope with the protracted conflict.

Also speaking during the occasion, chief of the Army's Special Force (Kopassus) Maj. Gen. Syharir MS denied reports that his troops took part in the TNI operation in Maluku, let alone mastermind the conflict there.

"Kopassus troops are all at their headquarters and they are focusing on how to improve their professionalism. But we are ready for any deployment to Maluku," Syahrir said.

Separately, Coordinating Minister for People's Welfare and Poverty Eradication Basri Hasanuddin announced an international humanitarian mission to Maluku which would be jointly organized by his office and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

An initial meeting, which was attended by 23 donor countries, seven UN agencies, the European Union, the International Committee of the Red Cross and the International Federation of the Red Cross, to discuss the aid arrangement was held on Thursday.

Basri said a team would gather reports and information about the latest conditions in Maluku and North Maluku provinces to assess the needs of people there. (01/emf)