Moluccas, Kalimantan risk new conflicts

Experts at an international meeting about peace in the region voiced a warning: to avert the threat, the government should tackle unresolved problems of discrimination and growing poverty.

Ambon (AsiaNews/JP) – Conflicts between ethnic and religious communities in the Indonesian provinces of the Moluccas and Kalimantan could re-ignite if the government does not tackle problems of social injustice and tensions in the area. The warning comes from an expert, Thung Ju Lan of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI). Last week, the expert took part in an international meeting on peace in these provinces. Thung said beneath relative calm, unrest simmered in the Moluccas and Kalimantan: the reasons that sparked earlier conflicts remain unresolved problems.

"The sectarian conflict in the Moluccas has had its main roots in a weak government, a widening gap between rich and poor, and injustice," he said.

Thung said the widening economic gap between local people and migrants could fuel fresh fighting in the Moluccas. That gap is linked to the continued exploitation of forest and mining resources, and segregation between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Christianity, another participant at the meeting, comes from Ambon. She said: "Segregation has frequently caused misunderstanding between the two communities. Local elections have frequently sparked conflicts as politicians fight for support from communities of different faiths and ethnic backgrounds."

She said recent regional autonomy had brought about meaningful changes in local governance. "Jakarta has disbursed so much money for the province, but the poor remain poor while the rich are getting richer."

Thung, who undertook research about conflicts in the Moluccas and west Kalimantan between 2002 and 2004, said the latter was in the same boat. Here, the local government ignored the main problems that ignited the inter-ethnic conflict between ethnic Dayaks, a group of ethnic Malays and Madurese migrants from Java.

"Dayak and Malay people attacked Madurese people because the latter were trying to control the business sector, after other sectors had been dominated by the bureaucracy and security authorities and foreign companies."

Violence exploded in west Kalimantan between 1996 and 1997 and then again in 1999. The most serious incidents took place in February 2001, when at least 500 Madurese were killed in the city of Sampit in Kalimantan.

Thung said the government and bureaucracy had to reform themselves to prevent the two provinces from seeking independence in the future. "The two provinces have been in need of leaders of integrity who treat people equally regardless of their ethnic, racial and religious backgrounds. Bureaucratic reform has to be carried out by recruiting the best people. Segregation must end; legal certainty should be upheld and security authorities must maintain their neutrality."