LAKSAMANA.Net, May 1, 2004 11:36 PM
Military Mastermind behind Ambon?
Laksamana.Net - The clash involving the pro-separatist Maluku Sovereignty Front
(FKM) and those claiming themselves as supporters of the unitary republic in Ambon
has aroused suspicion that the military masterminded the major outbreak of violence
in the capital of Maluku.
Permadi, a parliamentarian from the Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P)
and a member of House Commission I on defense and security was the first to raise
the suspicion in public.
"Why from the very beginning did not the Maluku Police Chief prevent the rally from
taking place?" he asked. "And why did the police begin to take action only after
tension turned high?"
Permadi's comment suggested that Maluku Police Chief Brig. Gen. Bambang
Sutrisno is the key element in uncovering any involvement of the security authorities
in the collapse of Ambon's hard-won peace.
The speaker of Commission I, Ibrahim Ambong, supported Permadi's comments. He
said the police chief must have known very well he was playing with fire in tolerating to
any degree the FKM plan to stage a rally to mark the 54th anniversary of the
declaration of the South Maluku Republic.
"The police personnel looked irresolute, because they knew the situation was critical
but they kept calm. We urge a critical evaluation of the performance of the Maluku
Police Chief. If his performance is seen to have been weak, he must be replaced,"
The blame directed at the police and the threat of a resurgence of the inter-communal
warfare that gripped Ambon and Maluku for three years has raised speculation that
there may be a mastermind behind the incident.
Several sources told Laksamana.Net that presidential candidates from the military like
Wiranto and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have reason to benefit from the violence with
an alarmed public even more likely to seek a firm hand on the presidency.
Yudhoyono was instrumental, with his running mate Yusuf Kalla, in achieving the
Malino accord. While some have argued that this is reason to suspect that they
played a hand in persuading the police to let the violence happen, other sources say
they have lost credibility, with their Malino pact falling around their ears.
Wiranto, meanwhile, has denied any involvement in the incidents. Sources close to
him say he feels his presidential hopes have been damaged badly by the gossip
linking him to the incidents in Ambon.
When communal conflict first occurred in Maluku in 1999, it was triggered by an
apparently trivial incident, an altercation between a Christian bus driver and two
Muslim passengers at the Ambon bus terminal in January of that year.
Within hours of the incident, fighting spread throughout the city and then to the nearby
islands of Haruku, Saparua, and Manipa.
As the violence dragged on, the causes of the conflict seemed more complicated,
with the battle between Christians and Muslims reflecting the struggle for power
among Jakarta's political elites.
Many believed that the violence in Ambon was instigated by political and military
factions associated with the Suharto regime that were seeking to destabilize the
emerging democratic political order.
The communal violence began when B.J. Habibie was still president, and the Armed
Forces Commander was still Suharto's protégé Wiranto.
Several sources believe that the violence was masterminded by Wiranto and his
military faction with the aim of making Habibie more dependent on the military.
Though on the surface Wiranto appeared loyal to Habibie, the pair were in fact
embedded in a love-hate relationship.
Wiranto was one of those who had urged Suharto to resign in favor of a gradual
process of reform, but who did not want Habibie to replace him.
Suharto would not go along with those who rejected the idea of the ‘mad scientist' in
charge of the nation, leaving Wiranto and his allies with no choice but to wait for the
general elections in June for Habibie to face a popular vote.
Wiranto was not the only person to be suspected of playing with fire in Maluku.
Christian and Muslim radicals also blamed each other.
Christians blamed Muslim radicals for seeking to advance a national Islamic agenda,
whereas some hard-line Muslims said Christians associated with the Indonesian
Democratic Party of Struggle (PDI-P) had initiated the violence in order to intimidate
Muslim voters and improve their party's prospects in the 1999 parliamentary election.
Whoever was behind the violence, if anybody, it spread irrevocably throughout Maluku.
In the newly-established province of North Maluku, the violence was connected to
intricate local rivalries and reflected a struggle by local elites over control of the area.
The massacre of at least 500 members of the Muslim minority in the Tobelo district of
Halmahera island in December 1999 provoked calls by Muslims for a ‘jihad' in
defense of the Muslims of Maluku, and paved the way for the emergence on the scene
of the Laskar Jihad militia group.
Suspicion over the involvement of the military faction linked to Wiranto became
stronger when the Laskar Jihad was allowed to send its fighters to Maluku in May
2000, turning the tide against the Christians.
Divisions worsened when evidence emerged that police had backed Christian
elements in the early stages of the fighting.
The city of Ambon, formerly the economic hub of Maluku, was effectively partitioned,
with indigenous Ambonese Christians occupying one end of the town and Muslims
In 2000, new President Abdurrahman Wahid sacked Wiranto as Coordinating Minister
for Political and Security Affairs and excluded him from power. Wahid was acting on
accusations that Wiranto had been involved in the killing of pro-independence groups
in East Timor the previous year.
The suspicions that Wiranto and his military clique had also played a behind-scenes
role in instigating the communal clashes in Maluku provided Wahid with another
reason for getting rid of the general.
By this time the game of elements within the military had changed from making the
president more dependent on the military to destabilizing the civilian government and
undermining the reputation of Wahid as a credible leader.
When Megawati took over the presidency in 2001, she seemed successful in locating
the nerve center of the problem and finding a formula to resolve the problem.
This formula was to sideline military networks such as the Special Forces (Kopassus)
and certain elements of the Army Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad) close to
In June 2002, the government established a Security Restoration Operations
Command in Maluku under Maj. Gen. Djoko Santoso, a close aide of former Kostrad
Commander and incumbent Army Chief of Staff Ryamizard Ryacudu, a Megawati
loyalist and faithful nationalist.
With Santoso in control, the military faction associated with the Suharto regime was
The commander put an end to clashes between the army and police units in the
province. This was no easy task: in May 2002 a confrontation between Kopassus
troops and police had left several soldiers and policemen injured.
The arrival of Santoso was preceded by the Malino Peace Pact of February 2002, in
which 70 representatives from Muslim and Christian factions met at the South
Sulawesi hill resort. The two sides agreed to disarm and end hostilities.
To make the agreement a reality, the neutrality of the military and the police was
essential if the deep-seated militias of both sides were to be disarmed and pacified.
With the Malino agreement signed and Santoso in command in Ambon, the task was
achieved. Now, with the communities in Ambon once more divided and a climate of
violence re-established, the task of restoring peace has to start from scratch once
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