Sat, 06 Mar 1999

Students take to streets to condemn Ambon tragedy

JAKARTA (JP): Over 5,000 Muslims, mostly students, staged noisy but peaceful rallies on the capital's streets on Friday to condemn the continuing communal bloodshed in Ambon that has so far killed 166 people.

Rallies of four different groups at three sites were marked with expressions such as "Allahu Akbar" (Allah is great) and "jihad" (holy war). No clashes were reported.

In the compound of the historic Al Azhar Grand Mosque in Kebayoran, South Jakarta, hundreds of people, some in tears, signed up to join a "holy war" against Christians in the riot- torn Maluku island chain, about 2,300 kilometers northeast of here.

The protesters demanded the Ministry of Security and Defense and the government immediately halt the bloodshed and conduct a thorough investigation.

They demanded the military take "stern and fair measures" in handling clashes between Muslims and Christians in Maluku.

Muslim figure Habib Al Habsyi told the crowd at Al Azhar that the root of the Maluku discord was neither religious nor political. "The cause is the brotherhood of the Maluku people has been ripped," he said.

Earlier, about 400 members of the Solidarity Committee for Ambon's Muslims held a rally in front of the Ministry of Defense and Security. They also performed prayers for Muslims killed in the Ambon clashes.

Shortly after the group dispersed peacefully, another group of 200 protesters from the Ciputat Student Communication Forum staged a rally and demanded Armed Forces Commander Gen. Wiranto step down.

Another group of 500 people from the Mosque Youth Forum visited the Indonesian Legal Aid Institute (YLBHI) to ask its executives to pay more attention to the clashes.

Similar demonstrations took place in several other cities, including Padang, the capital of West Sumatra, where dozens of students demanded Wiranto and National Police chief Gen. Roesmanhadi resign if they felt they were unable to solve the unrest in Ambon and other Maluku areas.

In the Central Java capital Semarang, about 100 students identifying themselves from the Indonesian Student Action Front staged a rally at the local legislative council. They demanded the resignations of Wiranto and Trikora Regional Military Commander Maj. Gen. Amir Sembiring, who oversees Maluku and Irian Jaya.

In Yogyakarta, hundreds of Muslim students also demanded Wiranto's resignation. One of their placards read: "Wiranto, be a gentleman."

In Surabaya, East Java, about 20 members of the Indonesian Muslim Student Action Front demonstrated at the legislative council over the Ambon unrest. They also called for Wiranto's resignation.

In Bandung, a local ulema said Muslims should give the government time to restore order and stability to Ambon. However, Muhtar Adam, the head of Babussalaam Islamic Boarding School, warned that ulemas would themselves lead Muslims in a holy war in the area if boundaries were overstepped.

From Ambon, Antara reported local religious and community leaders said they were still able to control the situation. They urged no interference from parties outside the province.

"We appeal to various parties in Jakarta not to interfere with the settlement of the problems in Maluku, especially if the interference has a political element," said a member of the newly formed team for reconciliation representing Muslims in Maluku, Thamrin Elly.

The call was echoed by former chairman of the Protestant Church Synode in Maluku, Bram Soplantila, Ambon Bishop Mgr Petrus Mandagi and Christian scholar A.N. Radjawane.

"Please trust the religious and community leaders as well as the local government to settle this conflict," said Mandagi.

Meanwhile, the fired Maluku police chief Col. Karyono was quoted by Antara as saying in Ambon that he took his dismissal well because he was trained to take orders as a soldier.

However, he hinted the military's top brass might not be well- informed about the situation in Maluku.

From Jakarta, Antara reported that chief of the marines Maj. Gen. Suharto asked the 450 marine troops deployed in Maluku province to start rebuilding ties among discordant Ambonese.

"Ask the (Ambonese) people to conduct patrols together, cook and have meals together, and perform religious services together," Suharto said in a written address delivered in Ambon Friday.

He also urged troops to protect schoolchildren and teachers and maintain peace in marketplaces to revive the city's economic life. They should also try to bring back the people's confidence in the Armed Forces, he said. (01/23/43/44/har/swe)