Thu, 06 Mar 2003

Govt to lift emergency status in North Maluku

Tiarma Siboro, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government is preparing a presidential decree that will lift the civil emergency status in North Maluku, which has been in place for three years due to sectarian violence.

Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno said the government considered that security in the province had improved to normal levels.

"The situation in North Maluku is relatively conducive and it deserves a normal status," Hari said after a ministerial meeting on political and security affairs in Jakarta on Wednesday.

The government, however, has no plan to lift the emergency status in the neighboring province of Maluku, despite the improvement in security there.

Sectarian conflict between Christians and Muslims first broke out in the Maluku capital of Ambon on Jan. 19, 1999 and spread to the northern part of the province, which was eventually separated as a new province. Thousands were killed during the violence.

The government of President Abdurrahman Wahid imposed the emergency status in July 2000. The administration of his successor Megawati Soekarnoputri placed Maluku and North Maluku under a security restoration operation in May 2002, three months after both warring groups signed a peace agreement in the South Sulawesi town of Malino.

Hari said he had received a report from new North Maluku Governor Thaib Armayin saying the province's status should be restored. The provincial administration is preparing the establishment of police and military institutions.

He said civil emergency status would be maintained in Maluku because illegal possession of arms remained rampant particularly in Ambon and its surrounding areas, despite routine searches for weapons.

Besides, Maluku has no definite government following the end of the tenure of Saleh Latuconsina last November. The government has named caretaker governor Sinyo Sarundayang, the director general of national integration under the home minister, to prepare a gubernatorial election.

"The acting governor is deliberating the provincial budget with the provincial legislature, which is expected to be passed later this month," Hari said.

After the provincial budget is approved, Sinyo will have to resume the election process of the Maluku governor.

"We will wait until the situation is thoroughly under control and a governor is elected before we lift the civil emergency status in Maluku," Hari said.