Maluku Christians and Muslims Keep Uneasy Peace

( [email protected] ) May 04, 2004 06:23 PM EDT

A week-long Muslim- Christian battle in Indonesia’s Maluku province shows uneasy peace. Til Monday, the death toll had climbed up to 38 while 230 were injured in the bloodshed. Hundreds of buildings were torched and more than 9,000 Muslims and Christians fled their homes, as reported by Maluku governor, Karel Albert Ralahalu.

A UK-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) received a SOS call issued by Monsignor Mandagi, Catholic Bishop of the Maluku. The Christian area of Batu Gantung (Kudamati) has experienced the most serious attacks by militants. The Indonesian army was blamed for its indifference to the full-scale attacks, allowing militant extremists a free reign on the Maluku. But it explained that they are focused on arresting a few members of the separatist Republic of South Maluku.

The Indonesia police have attributed the clash to the Christian separatists group which wants independence from Indonesia, which is dominated by the Muslim religion. The clash with Muslims was believed to have been triggered by the 25th April parade by Christian separatists at the 54th anniversary of the declaration of the South Maluku Republic (RMS). However, separatist supporters actually make up only a small percentage of the province's Christian population.

"We are still trying to determine who are the top leaders and who are mere followers. The top leaders will be tried in Jakarta while the rest will face justice here," said Maluku police spokesman Hendro Prasetyo.

Alex Manuputty, an exiled active Christian leader is being treated as a top suspected. Together with his wife and daughter, he was detained and questioned by the Indonesia police.

Meanwhile, both Christian and Muslim leaders have put their efforts to strive for peace. On Monday, a meeting of Christian and Muslim leaders and National Police chief Gen. Da'i Bachtiar was held aiming to reach an agreement to cease the clashes. However, it did not go well and ended in disarray.

Muslim leader Abdurachman Nivinubun and Christian leader Josias Polnaya lamented that the Da'i-led meeting had failed to bring about a peaceful solution, as it did not give the chance for participants to air their views or grievances.

The breakdown in the talks is expected to worsen the conflict in the restive city. Human rights experts fear that unless the Indonesian government takes firm action to stop the violence, there will be a repeat of the 1999 violence which left some 10,000 dead and half a million people displaced.

Fortunately, the security situation was much calmer in Ambon despite rumours that Laskar Jihad hard-liners would head to Ambon as they did in the previous conflict. Between the Muslim and Christians, they maintain an uneasy peace.

"For a second time in a row, we have had a relatively quiet night, with only one or two blasts heard," said provincial spokeswoman Lis Ulahayanan.

Bishop Monsignor Mandagi encouraged prayer for the well-being of the people of Ambon. He urged the Indonesia central government to care more for the victims of this violence.