Thu, 06 Jan 2000

Students lash out at Megawati over Maluku

JAKARTA (JP): Some 600 students grouped in the Indonesian Muslim Student Action Union (KAMMI) protested outside the vice presidential palace on Wednesday, demanding Megawati Soekarnoputri be held responsible for the prolonged sectarian unrest in Maluku.

They accused the Vice President of being sluggish in her attempts to solve the strife which began a year ago.

They also urged President Abdurrahman Wahid to revoke his mandate, entrusted to Megawati last October, to solve ethnic and sectarian violence and threats of separation in the eastern part of Indonesia, including the archipelagic province of Maluku.

"The Vice President has proven unable to solve the conflicts in Maluku. The President, therefore, must withdraw his mandate from Megawati and give it to competent figures," coordinator of the protesters M. Najib said in reading from a KAMMI statement.

Najib did not identify the competent figures.

Abdurrahman announced in October a list of Megawati's responsibilities, including dealing with unrest in Irian Jaya (now Papua), Maluku and Riau, and human rights and environmental matters. The President said he would focus on troubled Aceh and the country's economic recovery.

Megawati was heavily criticized after she and her family went on a year-end trip to Hong Kong. Critics said the timing of the trip was improper as unrest continued in Maluku and Aceh.

Official estimates put the number of deaths at about 450 in North and Central Maluku. However, unconfirmed sources claim a much higher death toll.

Student protesters arrived in front of the vice presidential palace on Jl. Medan Merdeka Selatan in Central Jakarta at about 10 a.m.

Attired in Muslim apparel and with white headbands stating the organization's name in capital letters, they repeatedly chanted "Allahu Akbar !!" (Allah is Great).

They unfurled banners and posters with messages including "Mega's tears cannot be compared with the blood of Ambon's Muslims".

The students demanded the Indonesia Military (TNI) remain neutral in handling the sectarian conflicts.

"The military must provide impartial protection to all people in Ambon. The military must settle the conflicts quickly to prevent them from spreading to other areas," said Najib.

They also demanded replacement of the local military commander, who they said was biased.

After a two-hour peaceful protest, the students marched to the Ministry of Defense to air the same demand. They continued to the nearby Istiqlal Grand Mosque, where they dispersed peacefully. Dozens of Police Mobile Brigade personnel guarded the protest. (asa)