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Update 1

By Jubilee Campaign U.K.

Since the completion of the Jubilee Campaign report, Analysis of the Sectarian Conflict in Maluku and its Role in the Islamicisation of Indonesia, in early December 1999, many new and disturbing events have taken place in Maluku. On 12 December 1999 President Abdurrahman Wahid and Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri went to visit Ambon and Mrs Soekarnoputri subsequently went to Ternate. During the trip they spoke to community and religious leaders but at the end of their visit they indicated that sectarian violence in Maluku could only be solved by the Moluccans. Whilst this appears reasonable the problem is that the violence is widely acknowledged by both the Muslim and Christian community to be orchestrated by people in Jakarta. The problem also cannot be solved whilst there is a continuous call for a Jihad or so-called “holy” war against the Christians. Furthermore, the Indonesian Government and the Indonesian military surely have a responsibility to protect those who are being massacred and subjected to all sorts of atrocities and should be held accountable for their failure to curb the violence. 

After the visit of the President and Vice-President, the situation deteriorated rapidly. On 23 December 1999 the Christian community in the northern part of Buru island (a large island to the west of Ambon island) was attacked. The latest report indicates that 165 people, mostly if not all Christians, were killed in the attack. Eyewitnesses reported the gruesome discovery of 56 mutilated bodies in a pond.  These were Christians travelling in a bus intercepted by a Muslim mob.  During the violence seventeen churches were burnt and the Christian population of northern Buru were driven out by force and had to flee to Ambon. Northern Buru, together with the Banda Isles, Ternate, Tidore and the southern part of Halmahera island are now completely cleared of Christians as a result of Muslim attacks. 500 Christians from northern Buru are still missing; many have fled to the forest to escape the attack. 

On 26 December 1999 the oldest and largest Protestant Church in Ambon - the Silo Church - was attacked by Muslim mob during a baptism service. The Muslim mob, with the aid of the Indonesian army using armoured vehicles, captured and burnt the heavily defended Church. The fall of the Silo Church and the attack on Christians in northern Buru triggered a strong reaction from the Christian community in Maluku.  After restraining themselves during most of the year-long sectarian violence, some Christians took revenge by burning 3 Mosques and attacking a few Muslim areas. In the ensuing violence at least 65 Christians and Muslims were killed. 

Violence also occurred in Masohi City in Seram Island (large island north of Ambon). The Christians in Masohi were attacked by a Muslim mob and the fighting has left at least 65 people dead (recent reports suggest the casualties may be nearer 200). 90% of Masohi is now controlled by Muslims. The latest reports from North Seram indicate the destruction of at least 22 churches and the displacement of 7,500 Christians who escaped to the forest. 

In Haruku island - east of Ambon - another Christian village (Hulaliu) was attacked by Muslim mobs from several villages. In this incident the Muslim attackers were seen using factory-made guns including AK47, M16, MK3 and SMR weapons. They also used teargas and hand grenades.  One report even indicated that an army helicopter was shooting at Christians. 10 Christians died in the attack. 5 Christians had been killed a few days before, when the Christian villages of Haruku-Sameth were attacked by Muslim villagers.

The worst violence occurred in Halmahera (large K-shaped island in North Maluku). During the early part of November 1999 the Christian community in Ternate, Tidore and South Halmahera were attacked and this resulted in at least 9 Christians slaughtered in Tidore, 29 Christians killed in Ternate and 9 Churches burnt. The violence drove Christians out of Ternate and Tidore with reports of up to 10,000 internally displaced people. Recent reports from the remote southern Halmahera area indicate that at least 7 Christian villages and Christians in 4 mixed Christian-Muslim villages were also attacked and completely annihilated. The Muslim attackers killed children, including under-fives, and women; those who survived fled to the forest. The Halmahera Evangelical Church reported that 2,190 Christians were killed (this has never been exposed in the Indonesian media) and at least 45,654 Christians became internally displaced persons.

Reports surrounding the events of 26-31 December in Tobelo and Galela area of North Halmahera are confused. The Christians reported that their community in Tobelo was provoked and in the following 3 days 265 people (both Muslims and Christians) were killed. The pro-Muslim media in Indonesia claimed that anywhere from 800 to 2000 Muslims were killed and that Muslim women were raped in the streets of Tobelo and Galela. The Christians in Halmahera strongly denied this allegation.  The government, military and foreign media agree that the 800-2000 casualty figure for Muslims is unsubstantiated. The Western media also quoted the claim that hundreds of Muslim bodies were found in a Mosque. However, all of the media cited one Muslim source and there is no independent confirmation of this discovery. Furthermore, even if many bodies of Muslims were found in the mosque - it did not necessarily mean they were killed by Christians. In fact there was one media suggestion that the worst violence against Muslims was not conducted by Christians, but was done by the animist, indigenous population of Halmahera. They reportedly took revenge for the killing of their relatives, who were converts to Christianity - against the Islamic militants who came in from South Sulawesi to wage war against the Christians. The high death toll from Halmahera is also a reflection of the remoteness of the island and the lack of presence (until recently) of any security forces. One thing that is clear from the Halmahera incident is the need for an independent third party Human Rights investigation - which is exactly what Moluccan churches have been calling for. 

The pro-Muslim reporting angered the rest of the Muslim community in Indonesia and on 7 January 2000 a large gathering (anywhere from 100,000 to 400,000 people) of Muslims called for a Jihad (Holy War) against Christians in Maluku. Included in the people who were present during the gathering were Dr Amien Rais (leader of the parliament), Ahmad Sumargono (leader of KISDI - an Islamic fundamentalist group - and a parliamentarian), Hamzah Haz (an ex-minister in Abdurrahman Wahid’s cabinet) and Fuad Bawazier (economic minister during Soeharto’s time). Interestingly during this gathering the Muslim-based political parties in Indonesia vowed to amalgamate and consolidate Muslim political power. The political leaders of the Muslim-based party also gave the Indonesian Government a deadline of 1 month to solve the sectarian conflict in Maluku. They stated that if the Government could not solve the problem then both the Indonesian President and Vice President should resign. 

As a result of the call for Jihad, Christian communities in other parts of Indonesia - such as in Madura Island off east Java and in Lampung Province in South Sumatra - have been intimidated and threatened. In Makassar and parts of Jakarta, Muslim youths stopped people to check their identity cards; those identified as Christians were then beaten up. In Lombok and Bima churches were burnt and Christians driven out of Lombok. These recent events clearly show that the biased media reporting not only deflects attention from the killing of Christians in Buru, Ambon, Masohi and Halmahera, but incite further anti-Christian violence outside the Moluccas. Behind what appears to be a religious war there seems to be clearly a political motive to derail the democratic government of Indonesia and replace it with an Islamic-based or at the very least Islamic-friendly government. 

Despite this aggressive Islamic agenda, most of the western media still reports the sectarian violence in Maluku as a Christian - Muslim conflict, wrongly implying that both sides are to blame. Whilst not denying that there are some Christians who used unjustified violence, the balance of evidence shows that the Christians in Maluku are persecuted and that Islamic militants with their religious-political agenda are behind the violence which has occurred there. Christians are constantly being attacked. When they defend themselves Muslims from outside the Moluccas, with the aid of the military come and attack them. With this organised and concerted aggression against Christians it may therefore only be a matter of time before their culture and way of life are destroyed. So desperate has the situation become that the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) has even called for the presence of a neutral International Peace-keeping Force in Maluku, demonstrating their lack of confidence in the Indonesian military’s ability to act in an unbiased manner. 

One also needs to look at the violence in Maluku in its wider context. The previous Jubilee Campaign report on this issue already alluded to the link between the number of churches, the rise of Islamic extremism in the Indonesian bureaucracy and the split in the armed forces between pro-Muslim and Nationalist factions. The Presidential election in November 1999 and recent events indicate that Muslim-based political parties are not willing to accept their loss in the general election. They have successfully prevented Megawati Soekarnoputri from becoming the President and now they are using the violence in Maluku to try and derail the government. It is interesting to note that during the presidency of B.J Habibie none of these kinds of ultimatums by radical Muslims surfaced. 

A further correlation is the fact that the recent violence occurred at the time when the UN and the Indonesian Human Rights Committee were investigating the role of Indonesian generals in the post-referendum violence in East Timor. General Wiranto, the leader of the Armed Forces, appears to have been increasingly siding with pro-Muslim officers because of his involvement in the destruction of East Timor.  There are now reports of a serious split between President Abdurrahman Wahid and General Wiranto and even rumours of a possible military coup by Wiranto. The Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid stated in the Jakarta Post edition of 4 February 2000 that attempts to destabilise the country were made by hardline generals and Muslim militants. 

It is revealing that the Christians in Maluku have consistently called for a neutral international peace-keeping force, the initiation of peace talks and warned about the agenda of Islamicisation of Maluku.  In contrast the Muslims in Maluku generally claimed that the Indonesian army is neutral, except for the military commander of Maluku who is an Ambonese Christian. The Muslims have also accused the Christians of jealousy, cleansing of Muslims from parts of the Moluccas (despite the fact that many areas are in fact cleansed of Christians) and tried to link the Christians to a separatist movement (which is supported by both Christians and Muslims; furthermore, the conflict has now spread to North Maluku which has never been part of the separatist movement). 

On Sunday 23 January 2000, after several days of relative peace, Muslim villagers numbering several thousand attacked two neighbouring Christian villages (Haruku-Sameth) on Haruku Island, east of Ambon Island. The attack was well planned, with waves of attackers from the sea, followed by a direct attack along the road connecting the Christian and Muslim villages and from the forest behind the Christian villages. The attackers were also supported by at least 200 individuals armed with military issued weapons and hand grenades. The military unit who were stationed there to keep the peace did nothing and in some cases even joined in the attacking and shooting of the defending Christians (this is the same Kostrad 303 unit who joined the Muslims attacking Silo Church in Ambon on 26/12/1999; Christian villagers have collected bullet casings and parts of hand grenades as evidence). 

When the Church leaders called Ambon to alert the military commander there he claimed he had not heard of the attack, which raises the question of the impartiality of the army unit. Military reinforcements which were flown in from Ambon landed not between the two warring parties, but behind the Muslim attackers. Eyewitnesses stated that upon landing these troops started shooting at defending Christians. Against such overwhelming force, the Christians lost at least 24 lives, 37 Christians were seriously injured and 1457 Christians took refuge in the forest. About 80 % of the two Christian villages were burnt (preliminary data includes 415 houses, 1 Church, 4 schools and 3 clinics among the buildings damaged or destroyed). This incident took place the day before Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri arrived in Ambon for her 3 day tour of Maluku. 

On 31 January 2000 the Head of the Moluccas military command admitted that some soldiers were involved in the attack on Haruku-Sameth and announced that 4 soldiers and 1 policeman were being investigated. It remains to be seen whether these soldiers and their commanding officers are prosecuted and convicted. Previous investigations, for instance of the soldiers involved in the Galala massacre, have not been made public and there is still no news of any punishment for those responsible for the killings. 

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