08/03/2010, 00.00
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Christian-Muslim peace boosts tourism on the Maluku Islands

by Mathias Hariyadi
Ambon, capital of the Indonesian province, welcomes the boats of ‘Sail Banda 2010’, a glitzy yacht race. Just a decade ago, the islands were better known for confessional clashes between Christians and Muslims that left 9,000 people dead. Now the islands are at peace. Last year, they welcomed 4,800 visitors; this year, they should get more than 100,000.
Ambon (AsiaNews) – Peace between Christians and Muslims in the Maluku Islands (Moluccas or Spice Islands) in eastern Indonesia has brought more tourists to the archipelago. Today, Ambon, capital of Maluku Province, is playing host to ‘Sail Banda 2010’, an international yacht race involving 109 boats that sailed from Darwin (Australia) on 27 July in direction of the Banda Islands, a smaller group of islands in the central part of the Maluku archipelago.

Like thousands of tourists, boat crews today enjoyed the ‘Makang Patita’, a seafood expo that broke Indonesia’s record book for the number of fish-based dishes.

After many years of turmoil, the race and expo mark the islands’ comeback. Their people at peace with each other, they now enjoy a revival as a tourist hotspot. In 1999-2001, confessional violence between Muslims and Christians had torn the area apart.  

In those dark years, clashes left 9,000 people dead. As a consequence, the number of tourists dropped considerably from an average of 14,500 a year to around 5,000 in recent years. Last year, only 4,800 made the trip to the islands. However, this year that figure is expected to jump to 100,000.

Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono attended the ceremony that welcomed the sailboats’ arrival. He too expressed hope that the event would leave the time of violence well behind and mark Maluku’s renaissance as a tourist destination.

One discordant note marred the event. An activist for the South Moluccas Republic waved the flag of the separatist movement in front of the presidential delegation and a few international guests. Security forces quickly apprehended and removed the activist.

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