Fri, 05 Mar 1999

Religious leaders' help sought

JAKARTA (JP): President B.J. Habibie called on religious leaders on Thursday to help ease tensions, end unrest and restore harmony among people of different faiths.

Addressing a meeting of leaders of the Protestant Church Synod of western Indonesia at Merdeka Palace, Habibie expressed concern over recent widespread rioting fueled by ethnic and religious diversity.

"This republic that we love, belongs to people from a variety of ethnic backgrounds and religions. We move forward together ... there will be a gap if one of the groups is left behind.

"But we have to realize that such diversity can also lead to conflict and tension. We are all concerned about recent incidents in Jakarta, Kupang (in East Nusa Tenggara) and Ambon (in Maluku) ... that have claimed lives and caused huge losses," Habibie said.

The President regretted that religion had inspired and motivated antipathy among people.

"Religion teaches us to love and care for others, to practice good deeds, maintain peace and refrain from violence," Habibie said, adding that recent religious conflicts indicated a gap between religious norms and social reality.

Habibie said religious leaders share a responsibility to guide their respective followers back to fundamental values.

"It's a tough assignment, but it must be carried out at all cost," Habibie stressed.

He said the government has always encouraged harmonious relationships between different religious communities, as stipulated by the Constitution. Religions, he said, had contributed to the establishment of justice in society.

Habibie said that a developed conscience and willingness were all that the nation needed to realize fair and equitable relationships among religious communities.

"We hope that religious leaders meet as frequently as possible, either formally or informally, to create an atmosphere of intimacy.

"If such a mood is maintained, I believe the people will follow," Habibie said. (prb/edt)