Mon, 17 Jan 2000

More dead in Maluku despite govt pledge

JAKARTA (JP): The government's pledge for quick and tough action to cope with the year-long turbulence in Maluku met with another uphill challenge on Sunday as fresh violence broke out in Central Maluku.

At least three civilians were killed and four security personnel injured when neighboring residents of Wakal and Hitu villages locked their horns in an armed clash. Maluku military Commander Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela said all the victims suffered wounds resulting from rifles and homemade bombs.

The latest fray follows an overnight statement from President Abdurrahman Wahid that the government would now take a central role in resolving the sectarian conflict, which first erupted in mid-January last year.

Speaking in his address to a gathering of the Maluku community in Jakarta, at the Senayan Indoor Stadium on Saturday night, Abdurrahman apologized for the ongoing violence.

"The government will listen to the voice of justice and we will give it our best attention," he remarked.

When visiting Maluku's capital Ambon in December, the President said residents there should settle the prolonged clashes themselves. Almost daily demonstrations have occurred in many cities censuring the government for its inaction in resolving the conflict.

On Saturday Abdurrahman said he would assign Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri to go there and take action against perpetrators of the violence.

Megawati, who has been holding a series of meetings with related Cabinet ministers and Indonesian Military and National Police top brass regarding the Maluku mayhem, is expected to go to Ambon on Jan. 24.

Abdurrahman reiterated his belief that ordinary people in Maluku do not harbor hatred against each other despite their different faiths and ethnic backgrounds. He claimed they were merely victims of the work of irresponsible parties wishing to disrupt the country's security and peace.

Tamaela told reporters on Sunday that the fighting in Central Maluku had nothing to do with religious issues, saying the warring villagers were of the same religion.

"The causes of the dispute are being investigated," he said as quoted by Antara.

He said security personnel had restored order in the territory.

Order had also generally been maintained in Ambon, Buru Island and Seram Island, according to Tamaela, although he admitted that he was verifying reports of violence on the remote island of Buano, west of Seram.

He confirmed that a bomb blasted the Waihaong housing complex in Ambon, which he said was aimed at provoking fresh violence.

The Bishop of Maluku, Petrus Canisius Mandagi, said on Saturday the situation in strife-torn Ambon was calm in the last few days, although peace had not been restored completely.

He said the people of Ambon had stopped communal clashes and had already resumed activities. "People have started to fill the empty streets and there are temporary markets selling food."

Mandagi was in Jakarta along with Maluku's figures and religious leaders from both conflicting parties to attend Saturday's gathering of Maluku community.

No less than 15 battalions of the Army and two battalions of the National Police's Mobile Brigade reinforcement troops have been deployed to help local security authorities calm the cycle of vengeance enveloping Maluku and North Maluku provinces.

Thousand have fled their villages seeking safety.


A non-governmental organization (NGO), Mitra Sejahtera, put the number of displaced people from North Maluku alone at 76,734.

"It is beyond our expectation as we predicted 50,000 people," the NGO chairman, Mohamad Bahmid, said.

The group's data reveal the refugees came from the worst hit areas of Tobelo, Galela, Ibu, Sahu, Jailolo and several places in Central Halmahera.

The refugees, mostly women, the elderly and children, were sheltering in makeshift tents, mosques and government buildings on Tidore island, according to Bahmid.

With schools reopening on Monday following the one-month holiday in observance of the Ramadhan fasting month and the following Idul Fitri holiday, the fate of schoolchildren hangs in the balance.

Many schools were destroyed during the communal clashes and children were forced to flee their hometowns to seek refuge.

Chief of North Maluku Police Lt. Col. Didik Prijandono confirmed that 216 Javanese transmigrants in Togoliuwa in Tobelo district were killed during late December clashes in North Maluku.

He said the fatalities came from East and Central Java. All the bodies have been buried by the police.

There have been conflicting versions of the number of fatalities in the conflict in North Maluku.

Tamaela said on Sunday 771 people had been killed in the new province since the violence erupted on Dec. 26. "Not 2000 as some media in Jakarta reported," he asserted.

But the local Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) claimed that 991 people were killed in Halmahera and 421 in Tobelo.

Back in Jakarta, acting MUI chairman Amidhan clarified the council's call for a jihad (holy war), saying it was meant to provide humanitarian aid for all victims of violence in Maluku.

"We call for Jihad bin Awal which means to collect money and material support for all the victims in Maluku's riots," Amidhan told The Jakarta Post. He said MUI never recommend a physical war in the volatile islands.

Separately, the Bishop's Council of Indonesia (KWI) urged in a statement signed by its chairman Josef Suwatan that all warring parties stop the conflict and vengeance.

"To find a peaceful settlement, all parties should avoid violence. We asked the public to exercise restraint and avoid being provoked by certain parties," the statement, a copy of which was made available to the Post, said.

The Communion of Churches in Indonesia (PGI) lamented statements of certain political elite figures and media reports on Maluku which it perceived would justify a sectarian conflict nationwide.

"We call on all political parties to end their political statements and demeanor which could cause national disintegration," PGI said in the statement, signed by the chairman Sularso Sopater. (01/04/emf/prb)