Fri, 19 Mar 1999

Gus Dur to lead religious leaders in Ambon visit

JAKARTA (JP): Abdurrahman Wahid of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Islamic organization and several other religious leaders will visit the ravaged Maluku capital of Ambon to try to rebuild inter-religious harmony in the region.

"I will visit Ambon at the invitation from the people there... along with leaders from Muhammadiyah, the Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI), Indonesian Bishops Conference (KWI) and preacher Zainuddin M.Z.," Abdurrahman said after meeting with Military Police chief Maj. Gen. M. Djasri at the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) office in Central Jakarta on Wednesday.

The group will discuss measures to restore religious harmony in the area, and the impact the two months of unrest there has had on the nation, he said.

When asked whether Amien Rais -- chairman of the National Mandate Party (PAN) and former leader of Muhammadiyah -- would join the group, Abdurrahman quickly replied, "Amien? No. He doesn't have anything to do with this. He's not invited."

Abdurrahman, better known as Gus Dur, reiterated that the communal clashes in Ambon and other Maluku areas, which have so far killed around 200 people, were instigated by four parties.

"They are the hoodlums, right-wing Muslims, right-wing Christians and members of the separatist movement of the Republic of South Maluku."

He said that during the one-hour closed session with Djasri, the two-star general attempted to clarify several issues concerning the Ambon unrest, including the possible causes, the involvement of the Army's Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) members, and an alleged provocateur initially referred to by Abdurrahman as "Maj. Gen. 'K'".

"I said that Maj. Gen 'K' is not Maj. Gen. Kivlan Zen (a member of the Army chief's expert staff).

"I'm concerned because it seems that ABRI leaders are focusing their probe (on Ambon) at Kivlan... I'm afraid this will jeopardize his career," Abdurrahman said.

Kivlan complained to Abdurrahman recently that his refusal to reveal Maj. Gen. 'K's identity had caused problems for his family, because the media had insinuated that it was him.

"The Armed Forces (leaders) are up against the wall, trying hard to gather sufficient evidence. ABRI is very serious... and I'm urging its leaders to work harder," Abdurrahman said.

When asked why he did not reveal the full identity of the alleged ABRI provocateur, he replied: "Of course I won't... But I tell you, he is real. He exists."

Commenting on the session, Djasri told the media the Armed Forces were checking all information relevant to the Ambon riots.

"This is a usual visit, not a questioning," he said.

Abdurrahman denied the suggestion that the session was made on the request of ABRI Commander Gen. Wiranto.

"What for? Almost every day, he (Wiranto) and Army chief (Gen. Subagyo H.S) speak to me on the phone," he said.

Also on Wednesday, President B.J. Habibie told his Cabinet ministers the ongoing violence in Maluku had nothing to do with a separation attempt launched by the Republic of South Maluku (RMS).

Following his meetings with Maluku leaders and other sources, Habibie said people in the province were embarrassed by the allegation that RMS had also provoked riots there.

"They could not accept this accusation at all," the President said as quoted by Minister of Information Lt. Gen. Muhammad Yunus after a cabinet meeting on Wednesday.


Minister of Transmigration Lt. Gen. Hendropriyono sparked controversy when he said in Ambon last week that RMS had provoked the unrest in Maluku in their bid to set up an independent state.

Most RMS leaders are living in the Netherlands, and Yunus said they were too old to be actively involved in the Maluku unrest.

"There may be some RMS attempts to instigate violence but it does not work at all," said Yunus.

Thousands of people have been displaced following clashes between Muslims and Christians in the provinces. Some officials estimate 60,000 Muslims -- many originally from Southeast Sulawesi and South Sulawesi -- have fled the unrest which has left about 200 people dead.

Muslim leaders have described the gory killings and unrest as ethnic cleansing of Muslims. The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) has denied the allegations, terming the situation as an orgy of senseless killing committed by both sides.

The communion also called on Wednesday on Habibie and the government to take serious and wise steps in ending the violence.

In a statement quoted by Antara, chairman Sularso Sopater and Secretary-General J.M. Pattiasina said: "We are calling on all parties to be wary of the emergence of religious sentiment and political fanaticism... that seek to make use of the unrest in Ambon to further their inhumane interests."

The communion also described the suffering of the Ambon residents, including those fleeing the area, as an insult to the principle of humanity long respected by Indonesia in its democracy.

Rights Watch

Meanwhile, an international human rights watchdog criticized the Armed Forces (ABRI) on Wednesday for fatal shootings of rioters in Ambon.

The New York-based Human Rights Watch also called on the government to investigate accusations of bias in the behavior of security forces, hurled by both Muslims and Christians.

"From Feb. 14 onward, most of the deaths took place when security forces began implementing orders to fire on rioters," said Sidney Jones, Asia director of Human Rights Watch, in the report, a copy of which was made available to The Jakarta Post.

The report continued: "There is no question that an extremely grave security threat existed and the security forces were initially accused by both sides of standing by and doing nothing.

"When they finally did intervene, they shot bullets rather than attempting to use any methods of nonlethal crowd control."

The report said the government should ensure that security forces respect the basic principle on the use of firearms by law enforcement officers and that "troops assigned to Ambon are fully equipped with nonlethal methods of crowd control".

"Of particular importance to Ambon is principle that law enforcers, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms."

The report said that the local press, many senior officials in the government, opposition and many Jakarta-based diplomats believe the violence was provoked as part of a nationwide strategy of rogue military officers linked to former president Soeharto to disrupt the forthcoming June elections.

Local leaders in Ambon tend to consider the violence as locally instigated for narrow communal goals, the report said.

"In either case, the government of Soeharto's successor, Habibie, seems to have been half-hearted about investigating allegations of provocation at either the national or local level."

It also said that imposing a state of civil emergency in Ambon and surrounding islands should be avoided at all costs.

"With the very clear exacerbation of the situation caused by the presence of security forces with orders to fire on rioters, additional measures that allow the military to bypass normal civil rights safeguards are likely to make things worse."

It also called on the government to acknowledge the terrible losses that Muslims and Christians have suffered. (byg/swe/edt/prb)