04/28/2004, 00.00
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Behind the religious conflict, the Army returns into politics

Jakarta (AsiaNews) –  The fourth day of religious violence in Ambon, the capital of Moluccas, has claimed the life of a police officer, and left 13 more wounded, as arson destroyed hundreds of homes and reduced the Nazaret Protestant Church and the Indonesian Christian Universityof Maluku (Universitas Kristen Indonesia Maluku, or UKIM) to ashes.  The Ukim had been renovated after it was destroyed in 2000, during the previous war. Since Sunday, the death toll has reached 36, leaving 159 people injured. But religious personalities and political analysts are becoming aware that high military personnel are playing a role in the clashes.

"The unrest is still ongoing," said Fr Kees Böhm MSC (Missionary of the Sacred Heart) of the Ambon Diocese Crisis Center yesterday. "The only safe haven for Christians and Catholics in Ambon's downtown is the Missionaries of the Sacred Heart rectory and parish. But, some of MSC Fathers and Brothers have already fled for safer areas," a citizen of Ambon stated, revealing how great the tension is in the provincial capital of Moluccas after four days of rioting.

The alternative Governor's Office Building –situated in the Talake area—was abandoned as soon as the riots began. "Now, this place is being used as a nest for mysterious snipers." Said Fr. Bohm. "One of their victims today is a Police Mobile Brigade personnel that had just arrived from Jakarta and today is resent back to Jakarta in a body-bag." Gunshot wounds seriously injured another officer as snipers fired shots. Two police personnel were killed the previous day.

Chairman of the Protestant Synod, Minister Izak Hendriks, however, was able to prevent a staged retaliation by a group of Christian youth.           

Ambon Diocese Bishop Msgr. Peter Canisius Mandagi MSC expressed his perspective and concern about the unrest. He rejects the idea that this latest rioting is between warring parties of Muslims and Christians: "I am not so sure about it. Better to say it is among pro-Indonesian territorial integrity (NKRI) supporters, and those separatists who support the existence of South Moluccas Republic (RMS) and the Sovereignty Moluccas Front (FKM)," Mandagi told Radio Nederland in a phone interview yesterday.  What is certain, he indicated, is that some group used the FKM's rally to mark 54th failed independence bid of RMS last Sunday as the right momentum to spark terror and violence. "I don't know what their target is by erupting this brutal tragedy," added Msgr. Mandagi.

But, some political analysts in Jakarta are quietly confident that there is a 'grand strategy' among high military personnel who have a political interest in making trouble in the strife-war city of Ambon before the direct presidential election next July 5. "The military is coming to politics again," says a political analyst who requested anonymity. "They make trouble, rioting, in order to ensure that only a president with military background would be able to dismantle such problems."

This evokes the question then: just who are the snipers hiding out in the Governor's Office Building?

Yesterday, thousands of Muslims in Solo, Central Java, staged a rally in support of Muslims in Ambon. A number of Muslim organizations in Jakarta also staged a demonstration at Police Headquarters to protest the legal process toward a terror suspect, Majelis Mujahiddin Indonesia's (MMI) Abu Bakar Ba'asyir.  Chaired by Din Syamsuddin, a scholar from the second largest Muslim organization 'Muhammadiyah', these groups condemned what the regional police in Ambon did on Sunday: giving security to separatists RMS and FKM activists. "Police should not protect them, but arrest them," he said.

The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) expressed regret over the fresh outbreak of sectarian clashes in Ambon.  "PGI deplores the communal clash among people and calls for an end to the conflict. It also encourages religious leaders from different faiths to take concrete steps to curb the violence," the Communion's chairman, Nathan Setiabudi, said.  "This fresh violence has disrupted the peace which has been made among the people in Maluku since it was wracked by sectarian conflict beginning in early 1999," he added.

Nathan dismissed accusations that Christians in Ambon supported the separatist South Maluku Republic movement. He also called on all sides not to be provoked by unlawful actions, which would only result in more religious violence.

Muslim, Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, Buddhist and Confucian leaders from the Indonesian Committee for Religion and Peace said that "provocation" was the best explanation for the violence that had erupted again in Ambon. The meeting was held at the office of the Muslim organization, Muhammadiyah. Committee member Din Syamsuddin said: "We call on people to resist being provoked by third parties" that have a "political motive".


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