Mon, 17 Jan 2000

Genocide incompatible with religion and faith

The clashes in Maluku which have taken hundreds, maybe thousands, of lives continue unabated. The following article is based on an interview with the Catholic bishop of Maluku, Monsignor Petrus Canisius Mandagi.

How do you explain the year-long clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Maluku islands?

The conflict must be placed in a wider context. We cannot view it in a regional context only but in a national or even international context. What President Abdurrahman Wahid said about it being the Maluku people themselves who have to bring about peace is true on one hand, but it is not 100 percent correct.

The root of the conflict is a power struggle. There is a political undertone present. Those fighting for power are not in only Ambon. There are those living outside Ambon. Ambon is merely a means to attain their goals. It is similar to play on a soccer field.

Who is involved in the struggle for power?

There are three groups at play. The status quo group, that is Soeharto and his cronies, is one. They want to recapture their power. Or members of this group who feel they have been humiliated. They think they have been made into scapegoats. They are being prosecuted, chased and dragged to court. They are fighting back by creating conflict everywhere while diverting public attention away from themselves and to the unrest. It is also an opportunity to topple the new regime.

The second group is the hard-line Muslims. They look at this transitional period as an opportunity to seize power from the nationalists, which include Christians whom they believe have been the real power holders so far. They have mobilized people not only in Ambon but also outside Ambon.

They sent jihad troops to Ambon to dominate or to expand their sphere of influence. I do not know where the people came from, but some outside troops allegedly attacked and occupied certain areas and exterminated locals. Ternate is one example. We are finished there. Churches, schools and convents were torched. Christians were evicted.

Likewise on Buru island, both in the north and in the west. An exception is the island's main town of Namlea where Catholics are protected by Muslims. Houses owned by Catholics are not burned down. Muslim youths stand guard at churches and parish houses. Catholics are protected. But it is over for Protestants there. There was revenge on the part of Protestants. I strongly deplore this. Many Muslims were killed.

The third group comprises military people. The military, especially the Army, is under fire because of alleged past abuses. It has been discredited. Of course it wants to regain power. Certain members create conflict so that the people will look to them to overcome it. I regret this. It is not the way to do it. The military should act in a professional way. It should love and protect the people. It should not use violence. Perhaps, living under repression and violence for 32 years has taught us to use violence to achieve our goals. Whereas we should seize power by way of dialog, democratic elections. Many still see power as an instrument to maintain egocentrism, positions.

President Wahid's proposed solution is to leave the matter to the Maluku people themselves. Which groups can still be brought together?

The unrest in Maluku has degenerated into genocide, involving both Protestants and Muslims. I think the first step is to put an end to this violence, this genocide. There is no other alternative but to turn to the military. We need the military, either Indonesian or foreign troops. But we must still try to do it with the military from home.

Is the military still there and is it up to the task?

It is still there. I told my fellow priests that while we may not agree with certain military officers we should not be against the military as an institution, it is the military that can provide security after all. The important thing is dialog, not confrontation. We should discuss the good things and the bad in the context of a dialog, but not to discredit anyone. I think that is acceptable.

What should the military do at this point in time?

I think it has to take certain measures, like mount a raid against sharp weapons. This should be carried out in a disciplined way, not in an overbearing way like hitting or stripping people. It should be done strictly and according to the law. This should also apply to the confiscation of ammunition. Another important thing is the prevention of arms smuggling and the manufacturing of assembled arms or Molotov cocktails.

Next, justice should be upheld. A court should try those who committed mass killing, Christian and Muslim perpetrators notwithstanding as well as civilians or military members.

Then comes the endeavor for reconciliation. In my opinion, reconciliation attempts solely by the people of Maluku themselves will not work because grudges run too deep. There is a need for outside intervention, from within the country or a foreign independent party.

In the reconciliation process there must include open and frank discussions with an outpouring of feelings. There may be cultural barriers, economic or religious injustices, or perhaps weak local leadership.

What kind of military leadership do you think would work in the current situation?

To stop the violence, there is certainly a need for professional military leaders. The leaders there now are in a difficult position. In my opinion a total change is necessary. It is not because we dislike the present leaders. But they may be too tired, too exhausted.

What is needed is a new leader with a clear vision and mind. It may be that the existing leaders are so used to riots that they no longer have a sense of crisis. Therefore I think it is necessary to replace the governor, the military regional commander, the regional chief of police, the military district commander, the military resort commander, the regents.

The regional government now is helpless, paralyzed. I think a transitional government is needed there. It should be directly under the control of the central government, answerable to the President.

Do you feel that there are clean military people who can overcome the conflicts?

There are still some of them. We must support them. They are only human beings, like us. They get tired and need support. Therefore we should continue to strive to relate with them.

What is the role of religious figures, moral leaders like yourself?

We are helpless because anarchy has set in. We are only moral figures. People do not listen to us. Especially if a conflict is orchestrated. We are just pushed aside. People in the Catholic congregation, however, usually still listen to the voice of their priests and bishops.

Why were you accompanied by the Vatican ambassador when you paid a call on the President on Jan. 5?

For me the Maluku conflict is a humanitarian problem, a problem of genocide. It is not a national or international matter. It is a human problem. The Vatican is known in the world as a fighter for humankind. I think the visit of the Vatican ambassador was intended to inform people about the concern of the Vatican about the killings. The presence of the Vatican ambassador was for me a symbol of the church's struggle for humankind.

It was not because I wanted to involve another country. Or to denigrate Indonesia. No. I wanted to emphasize the struggle of humankind.

To your knowledge, how many people have died?

Thousands already. In the whole of Maluku, it is in the thousands. I think more than 3,000 or 4,000. In North Maluku alone the total has exceeded 2,000 in the past few days. It is more serious in Central and Southeast Maluku. It causes us concern. It is a crisis of humankind. (F. Sihol Siagian)