Sat, 15 Jan 2000

Komnas Ham sets up inquiry on Maluku

JAKARTA (JP): In the wake of mounting criticism for its alleged indifference, the National Commission on Human Rights (Komnas Ham) set up on Friday a commission to investigate atrocities in Maluku and North Maluku.

Joko Sugianto, the commission's newly elected chairman, said the inquiry team was established due to the quick spread of sectarian conflicts in the Maluku islands, which firstly broke out in Ambon in mid-January last year.

"We found indications that clashes in the two provinces have spread to other regions, so we will carry out an intensive investigation to help solve the conflict," Joko told journalists after the election, which lasted two and a half hours.

He denied that the move had something to do with the growing demand for its dissolution due to its alleged discriminative policies in handling human rights violations in the country.

"On Aug. 13, we wrote to then president B.J. Habibie, urging him to promptly visit Ambon to curb the violence, but we received an unsatisfactory response.

"We also sent a similar request to the new government. It's evidence that we do not turn a blind eye to the humanitarian tragedy in Maluku," he said.

Some Muslim organizations have urged the government to disband the commission for its sluggish handling of the mayhem.

Pressure on the commission continued on Friday when some 300 supporters of the Joint Forum of Islamic Legions rallied in front of the commission's office, demanding it carry out an investigation of human rights abuses in Maluku's two provinces.

In Medan, North Sumatra, about 1,000 people grouped under the Defenders of Ummat Islam (FPUI), gathered at Merdeka square after Friday prayers to urge the government to immediately solve the problems in Maluku.

Chanting "Allahu Akbar! Allahu Akbar!" (God is Great) the demonstrators called for an end to violence. Among the attendants at the event were North Sumatra Governor T. Rizal Nurdin and some of his staff.


Antara reported on Friday that while Ambon was calm, the situation on Halmahera Island, where the latest outbreak of violence has prevailed over the past three weeks, remained tense.

Hundreds of the deceased killed in Dec. 29 clashes are left unburied and more than 1,500 people, mostly women and children, are still missing after fleeing the attacks.

Hussen Bassalama, director of the General Hospital in Tobelo, said the island was facing a threat of epidemic diseases from the hundreds of deceased bodies killed in the recent clashes in Tobelo and Galela subdistricts.

Some 300 people injured in the fighting are undergoing intensive treatment at the hospital.

Bahdar Kharis and Muhammad Albaar from the local chapter of the Al Khairat Muslim organization said they had requested the local military search for more than 1,500 villagers who went missing after they escaped an attack on Dec. 29.

The missing people, who are residents of Papilo, Gurua, Gamangi II, Gomhoko and transmigration settlement areas in Togolinwa, are believed to be hiding in forests on the island.

The central government sent on Friday 300 tons of rice and medicine to around 50,000 refugees in North Maluku.

Burhanuddin, an assistant to the coordinating minister for social welfare and poverty alleviation, said the government would team up with other ministries in supplying humanitarian relief to victims and refugees in the two provinces.

The refugees were accommodated in safety areas on Ternate and Tidore islands, he said.

Meanwhile, around 120 religious and traditional leaders from numerous religious and social organizations met here on Friday to strive for a reconciliation among the conflicting groups in the provinces.

Spokesman for the Ministry of Religious Affairs Muchtar Zarkasyi said President Abdurrahman Wahid, Indonesian Military (TNI) chief Adm. Widodo A.S., noted sociologist Selo Sumardjan and many other intellectuals were expected to speak during the two-day meeting.

In a related development, more than 1,500 refugees from Central Maluku arrived in the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar on Friday on board the KRI Teluk Penyu navy ship on their way to their homeland in Java.

Most of the refugees were employees of the state-owned rubber plantation company PTPN XIV in Kebun Awaya and Telpaputih in Central Maluku. (01/27/39/edt/rms)