Fri, 04 Jul 2003

Military warns of dangers in Maluku

Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon, Maluku

With the military campaign to quell the separatist movement in Nanggroe Aceh Darussalam showing no indications of coming to a speedy end, one of the country's other trouble spots -- Maluku -- is facing a potential reemergence of armed conflict, a report says.

Maluku's Pattimura Military Commander Maj. Gen. Agustadi Sasongko Purnomo hinted on Thursday there were groups that were interested in stirring up trouble and renewing the conflict in the province.

"The first group which has an interest in this regard is the South Maluku Republic (RMS) separatist movement and (its military wing) the Maluku Liberation Front (FKM). Another is a group of people who will take advantage from the instability," the military chief said to reporters after attending the 42nd anniversary celebration of the 733rd Infantry Battalion in Masariku, Ambon.

He said the province still had to deal with the problems that ensued following the 1999 religious unrest, and this would need the full participation of all elements in society to prevent the past conflicts from reemerging.

"Should the ideological, political, economic, social, cultural and security problems remain unsolved, they will trigger new conflicts here," Agustadi said.

Quoting intelligence reports, the two-star general said the groups he was referring to included people who were behind the latest acts of terror in the provincial capital.

Ambon has been coping with the possibility of renewed terror following the recent findings of bombs in public places.

The latest incident was the finding of an armed bomb on Jl. DI Panjaitan in the Mardika area. The bomb failed to explode as the police bomb squad managed to deactivate it in time.

But the military chief said it was difficult to identify the motives behind the latest bomb threats as they were different from those of the RMS/FKM, which was obviously attempting to set up a state separate from the Unitary Republic of Indonesia.

"We're hunting these people ... we, therefore, would ask for public help and for them to contact us if they know the whereabouts of the perpetrators," Agustadi said.

Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Bambang Sutrisno concurred with Agustadi's view and offered help to the military in its attempt to uncover the groups involved.

"The Maluku Police will help the Indonesian Military (TNI) in tracking down the groups interested in maintaining the conflict here," Bambang said.

The military chief also hinted at the existence of some 300 weapons -- both military standard-issue and homemade -- among the opposing groups in Ambon.

"We'll conduct spot raids on suspected places to confiscate these weapons," he said.

"I hope those possessing weapons will voluntarily hand them over to us. And those who know that their neighbors have guns, ammunition or explosives should also report them to the nearest military/police post."

Serious sectarian violence broke out in Maluku in January 1999, which left more than 5,000 people dead and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes. The central government in February last year brokered a peace deal between the two warring camps, but sporadic violence has continued in the province.

More than 80 percent of Indonesia's 212 million people are Muslims, but in some eastern regions, including Maluku, Christians make up about half the population, or are in the majority.