Sat, 26 Apr 2003

Over 60 separatists arrested in Maluku

Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon/Jakarta

Security authorities in Maluku arrested more than 60 people accused of trying to celebrate the 53rd anniversary of the South Maluku Republic (RMS) separatist movement.

They were all put in detention and given a stern warning that they could be imprisoned if they refused to retract their support for the outlawed independence movement.

Maluku Police Chief Brig. Gen. Bambang Sutrisno said in Ambon, capital of the Maluku province that the police arrested 30 supporters of the Forum for Maluku Sovereignty (FKM), an outlawed organization affiliated with RMS, and seized 20 RMS flags in Aboru district in Haruku Island, Central Maluku regency, as well as more than 20 others in the city.

"All detainees have been placed in police detention here, and they will be asked to drop their support for the two outlawed organizations... They will be brought to court to face subversion charges if they failed to do so," he said.

The observance of the RMS anniversary was expressed either by hoisting an RMS flag on trees or flying it on helium balloons in an attempt to prevent raids on their houses or offices by security personnel.

A number of people were arrested when they were preparing a flag-hoisting ceremony in a field in Kudamati, a home base of FKM and RMS in Ambon. The area was also strictly controlled by scores of security personnel who examined all people going to and from the area.

A home-made bomb, assumed by the police to be the work of FKM supporters, exploded in the Rindjani area in the city. No casualties were reported.

Separately, Ambon Military District Chief Lt. Col. Yudi Zannibar said security authorities would continue to use "the persuasive approach" in deterring RMS supporters.

Around 400 police and military personnel were deployed to search residents for weapons or flags and break up any celebrations to mark the RMS anniversary.

The civilian emergency chief banned the two organizations last year as their supporters were accused of using the recently subsided three-year sectarian conflict to fight for the province's independence.

Last April, security authorities also arrested FKM Chairman Alex Manuputty and a number of RMS supporters for provoking locals, especially Christians, to support RMS and hoist its flag.

Alex was sentenced by the South Jakarta Court to three years in jail for subversion but he is appealing to the Jakarta High Court.

RMS was founded in 1950 to work towards independence, effectively rejecting Indonesia's independence from the Netherlands, but it was crushed by the military, and many of its supporters subsequently fled to the Netherlands.

Meanwhile, FKM Secretary General Mosses Tuana Kotta took responsibility for the hoisting of an RMS flag on Friday, saying RMS was a historical fact that the Indonesian government had to accept.

"FKM is responsible for the celebration of the RMS anniversary not only in the country but also overseas," he said.

Mosses conceded that FKM had intensified its lobbying efforts with a number of influential nongovernmental organizations overseas to push for international recognition for RMS.

He argued that what the FKM supporters had done was termed subversive by the Indonesian authorities because the government rejected RMS' existence.

"Therefore, we are trying to show the international community that RMS does exist and it is fighting for its independence in Maluku," he said as quoted by Antara news agency.

He also admitted that he had twice met this year with several NGOs in Europe, Australia and the U.S., with close links to the United Nations in order to win their support for RMS.

"Let the security authorities take repressive actions on us, but we will continue our moral movement and peace struggle. The more repressive the security authorities become, the more that international support will pour in for us," he warned.

He added that the FKM was ready to hold a dialog with the government to seek a peaceful solution to the Maluku issue.

Acting governor of Maluku Sinyo Harry Sarundayang lashed out at Mosses' political statement, saying he was hoping to be treated like the Free Aceh Movement (GAM) in war-torn Aceh, referring to the degree of international recognition that GAM now enjoys.

"FKM supporters are actually a small group of people and they have no power to fight for their political interests. They have offered a peace dialog to seek money from the government," he said.

Maluku Muslim Community Chairman Ali Fauzi called on the government to take harsher measures against the two outlawed organizations and their supporters since their activities were against the law.