Sun, 23 Jan 2000

Religious leaders join forces in preventing riots

JAKARTA (JP): In a fresh call for harmony, leaders of five religious communities pledged on Saturday to maintain peace and support for strict measures against perpetrators of violence.

Muslim representative Habib Ali bin Abdurrahman Assegaf, Protestant representative Rev. Sularso Sopater, Catholic representative Aloysius O., Hindu cleric Nyoman Purwaka and Buddhist priest Bhiksuni Firyaguna signed a pact to reject anarchic conduct and all acts prone to causing chaos under the mask of religious interest.

"We will do our best to preserve peace among people of different religions. We support the police to take the strictest measures against those proven to provoke religious or sectarian conflicts," Habib told 500 people packing the South Jakarta Police station.

Attendants of the gathering included Jakarta Governor Sutiyoso, city police chief Maj. Gen. Noegroho Djajoesman, who also sponsored the meeting, and representatives of political parties and religious groups.

Sectarian clashes remain unabated in Maluku, with the death toll in the year-long conflict estimated at over 2,000. This week also saw religious-related violence in Mataram, the capital of West Nusa Tenggara. Jakarta was also rocked several times by interreligious enmities.

The five religious leaders said in the joint statement that they would comply with "check and recheck procedures" should they hear reports of alleged religious harassment.

Habib stressed that a religion could pose a danger if its believers lost their common sense.

"People now tend to lose rationality when they hear that people from a different religion are trying to convert others to theirs. Just stick to your own religious beliefs and maintain peace," Habib said.

In his address, Sularso, who chairs the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) told how he and former Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) chairman Ali Yafie reacted to leaflets which were recently circulated to cause rifts between Muslims and Christians in Greater Jakarta.

"One of the leaflets was about a genocide of Christian Ambonese in Greater Jakarta. I immediately rang Ali Yafie, who told me that it was spread by irresponsible parties," Sularso said.

Aloysius criticized the government for allowing the "small incidents to go unnoticed".

"Problems start from small incidents. When we neglect those small things and people are provoked, they will spiral out of control and there is no stopping them," he said.

Meanwhile in Ambon, Maluku Military Commander Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela denied on Saturday allegations that military personnel were involved in the prolonged sectarian clashes in the province.

"The allegations are baseless because the reason for the presence of security personnel here is to secure peace and maintain order," Tamaela was quoted as saying by Antara.

Tamaela also denied rumors that he was not fully supported by his personnel, saying that there had been "solid and firm cooperation" between the commander and personnel.

There are now 15 battalions of military reinforcements in Maluku and North Maluku, plus two battalions of police-augmented troops.

Tamaela said at least eight people were killed in Friday's violence between Muslims and Christians in the Sahu district area of Jailolo, North Maluku.

According to the official figure, at least 771 people have been killed in the religious violence in North Maluku since late last month. The province's MUI office claimed that the death toll surpassed 2,000 in the weeks of conflict alone.

Minor clashes were reported in North Maluku despite the heavy presence of security personnel. At least 25 people were injured during the latest fighting in Malifut district in Ternate.

The violence came amid a joint operation by the military and police to seize weapons in Ternate and on Halmahera island on Saturday.

Security Commander of North Maluku Lt. Col. Widagdo Adi Wijoyo said the operation was initiated following an order from the Maluku Military chief.

"It will become a routine and will be carried out thoroughly from Ternate to other areas on Halmahera island," Widagdo said.

Security personnel confiscated five homemade guns and dozens of sharp weapons from motorists and motorcyclists, but no arrests were made.

Widagdo denied that the raid was conducted due to the planned visit of Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri to Ternate on Tuesday. (ylt/emf/byg)