Sat, 09 Dec 2000

Christians, Muslims meet for reconciliation in Maluku

YOGYAKARTA (JP): A total of 92 representatives from Christian and Muslim groups in the Malukus joined the Baku Bae reconciliation meeting here on Friday, pledging to commence recovery efforts after two-years of violence in the strife-torn region.

"The efforts include the establishment of two neutral territories for economic and education activities in the Ambon mayoralty," Ichsan Malik, the workshop facilitator, told media here.

The meeting, involving an equal number of Christians and Muslims, also agreed to hold a peace conference for Maluku citizens in March 2001, and to establish civilian peacekeepers for the neutral zones.

Ichsan said the Maluku people are tired of fighting.

"We've conducted a survey involving 1,300 Christians and 1,200 Muslims across the Maluku islands and they all said that they wanted to end this violence with 'Baku Bae' (reconciliation)," he said.

The group claimed that at least 8,000 people have been killed in the Malukus since violence broke out on Jan. 19, 1999 at the downtown border of Batu Merah-Mardika, in the capital of Ambon.

"The workshop has also discussed the possibility of establishing a fact-finding team to investigate principal cases, including the Jan. 19, 1999 incident," Ichsan added during the group's first joint media briefing.

The meeting is scheduled to be completed on Monday.

Among the participants are chairman of the Latupati (village association) in Leihitu area, Mahfud Ngukulele, who is also chief of Seith village, and Latupati chairwoman in the Baguala area, Theresia Maitimu, who is also head of Passo village.

Yogyakarta's Monarch, who is also the Yogyakarta Governor, Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X said in his address that humans are created with differences but those must be the starting point for building a dialogue between people.

"Therefore Maluku people may lose everything, except hope. You must not loose your hope to reconcile," Hamengkubuwono said after reading Maluku's peaceful Pela Gandong rhyme.

Ichsan further said that, based on the field data, the roots of the Maluku problems mostly came from external factors that forced people to be involved in the conflicts.

"Exploitation of religion and politics by both military and political elites, plus information distortion, resulted in this destruction," he said.

This is the third of such reconciliation meetings, following previous discussions held in Jakarta early last August, and in Denpasar's capital of Bali in October, Rev. Piet Manopo, one of the Christian representatives said.

The group had also met with President Abdurrahman Wahid on Oct. 28 in accordance with the commemoration of Youth Pledge Day.

"Maluku is currently in the process of destruction. The toughest part is to alter the people's character from those that are full of bitterness and violence, to those that are constructive," Manopo said.

Strong law enforcement is needed to restore order in the area, he added.

"We hope that through this reconciliation effort, conflicting camps eventually realize that we are being used against each other and, therefore, should stop the violence.

"Without that, fighting will easily spark," M. Yusuf Ely, a Muslim representative, said. (swa/edt)