Indonesia: Overcoming Murder and Chaos in Maluku
Indonesia: Overcoming Murder and Chaos in Maluku
Table of Contents
  1. Executive Summary
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Indonesia's Police: The Problem of Deadly Force
Report 10 / Asia

Indonesia: Overcoming Murder and Chaos in Maluku

Intercommunal violence in Indonesia’s Maluku region during the past two years has left over 5,000 people dead and displaced roughly 500,000 more.

Executive Summary

Intercommunal violence in Indonesia’s Maluku region during the past two years has left over 5,000 people dead and displaced roughly 500,000 more. The smouldering tensions erupted again in November and December, leaving approximately 100 dead and the city of Ambon in a state approaching civil war. Christian and Moslem religious holidays in the last week of December will almost certainly lead to more clashes unless steps are taken to protect communities and constrain the fighters. The outlook is for much higher death-tolls in the months to come. The conflict has divided Malukan society along religious lines – Moslem versus Christian – even though the origins of the fighting are multi-layered and involve ethnic, economic and political rivalries. A cyclical pattern of fighting has been established, but it has increased in intensity over time. Until this pattern changes, bloodshed in the region will continue and the Christian-Moslem divide will widen, with consequences that will extend beyond the Maluku region.

During the first fifteen months of fighting, the Moslem and Christian fighters were more or less equally engaged in localised fighting. But between April and June 2000, well-organised Moslem militias established a dominance in the violence that has not been challenged since. The turning point was the arrival in Maluku of members of the Java-based Laskar Jihad, a radical Moslem organisation that had received military training and access to arms from sympathisers in the military. A Christian massacre of about 500 Moslem villagers at the end of December 1999 created the domestic political conditions that allowed the emergence of Laskar Jihad. Important Moslem political leaders saw it as a force dedicated to the protection of endangered Moslems. Laskar Jihad is now the main source of continuing bloodshed, something acknowledged by President Abdurrahman Wahid’s government. Laskar Jihad increased its numbers in Maluku in the lead-up to the most recent violence. The group has turned intermittent fighting between two communities into a campaign of 'religious cleansing'. The group’s leaders have defiantly declared they will not leave Maluku until their work is done.

Government authorities, at both the national and regional levels, have been largely ineffective in containing the violence, let alone in dealing with the underlying causes. The government has not tried to remove Laskar Jihad, or even just its leaders, from the region, partly because they have been linked with sympathetic elements within the military and partly because the government appears to want to avoid the political cost of opposing a pro-Moslem force. Moreover, it is widely believed that certain national politicians and military officers who have been displaced by the Wahid government are encouraging violence in Maluku and elsewhere as a means to discredit and destabilise the current administration. The military and police in Maluku, pursuing a variety of motives, have joined the fighting on both sides, although the intervention of predominantly Moslem military personnel has more often, although certainly not always, favoured the Moslem militias.

Although the two provinces of Maluku are only a tiny piece of the sprawling Indonesian state – and hold just 1 per cent of Indonesia’s 200-million people – the Maluku violence cannot be fenced off or ignored. The impunity for killing, destruction and forced displacement sends a signal that such serious criminal actions will be tolerated. While the circumstances in Maluku are not replicated closely in other parts of the country, many parts of Indonesia have serious social or economic divisions, and are therefore at some risk of contagion from large-scale, organised political violence if provocateurs decide to go down that path.

Lacking an effective security force, the Abdurrahman Wahid government has allowed the killing in the Maluku region to simmer for almost two years without formulating a clear strategy to overcome the violence. One element of such a strategy must be the removal of the Laskar Jihad from the two provinces but this will not be enough. It is essential that the security forces are capable of protecting both communities and particularly that the removal of the Laskar Jihad is not followed by renewed attacks by Christian militias on Moslems. Peace cannot be restored until both Moslems and Christians feel that their own personal security is guaranteed. It is crucial that the government regain control of its police and military forces in Maluku and that these forces act in a neutral way between the rival communities.

Jakarta/Brussels, 19 December 2000

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