Sat, 08 Mar 2003

Troops to be maintained in North Maluku

Fabiola Desy Unidjaja, The Jakarta Post, Jakarta

The government will maintain a large number of troops in North Maluku to assist the repatriation of refugees despite a plan to lift the civil emergency status in the province.

Speaking in a press conference on Thursday, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said Minister of Social Affairs Bachtiar Chamsyah had asked for the troops to help the local government complete the repatriation program for refugees who fled their homes in the wake of bloody sectarian conflict in the Maluku islands between 1999 and 2001.

"To maintain security and to carry out the humanitarian mission the Indonesian Military will immediately set up a military resort command in the province," Susilo said after a Cabinet meeting presided over by President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

There were 9,800 military reinforcement troops placed in Maluku and North Maluku following the sectarian conflict.

A presidential decree, prepared by Minister of Home Affairs Hari Sabarno, will be issued as soon as possible to provide the legal basis for the lifting of the civil emergency in North Maluku.

Susilo said security conditions in the province no longer needed special attention.

"From our evaluation, North Maluku will regain its normal status," Susilo said.

Maluku and North Maluku were placed under a civil emergency in June 2000 through Presidential Decree No. 88/2000, issued by former president Abdurrahman Wahid.

The decree was signed after a long and tiring debate on how to end the sectarian clashes on the islands, which began with a minor fight over a bus fare between two men of different faiths during Idul Fitri in the Maluku capital of Ambon in January 1999.

The conflict claimed thousands of lives and shattered religious harmony among the people and forced hundreds of thousands of people to take refuge.

The civil emergency has placed the people under constant surveillance by the military and police, and only in the past year the situation improved in North Maluku.

Security remains a concern in the neighboring province of Maluku, however.

"The situation in Maluku requires a continuation of the civil emergency, at least until the election of a new governor for the province," Susilo said.

"Once the new leader is elected, the central government will immediately evaluate whether to keep or lift the civil emergency status," Susilo said.

Home minister Hari Sabarno said the gubernatorial election would take place within the next few months as the local council had not yet submitted the names of the gubernatorial candidates to Jakarta.