05/03/2004, 00.00
Moluccas - Indonesia
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John Paul II writes to tortured Christians in Ambon

The family of Christian separatist leader has been arrested, while it is suspected Laskar Jihad militants have arrived in the region.

Rome (AsiaNews) – John Paul II sent a telegram to the bishop of Amboina  to express his sorrow for the victims of Christian and Muslim clashes. In the telegram the pontiff also asked for an immediate end to the violence that erupted last week. 

The text of the pope's telegram to Msgr. Petrus Canisius Mandagi, was sent by way of the Vatican's secretary of state, Cardinal Angelo Sodano. The message read: "His  Holiness John Paul II has been informed of the new outbreak of violence in Ambon, which has led to the loss of many lives, serous injuries, looting and burning of homes, schools and churches. During this time of suffering and great unrest, he wants to assure all the Christian population (of the region) that he shares his heartfelt fatherly sentiments and solidarity with them. He offers his deepest prayers so that public order will soon be restored and that there will be peaceful relations between the (area's) various religions and sectors of society. His Holiness has prayed to God, our merciful Father, so that He may grant (eternal) peace to those who have died and comfort and consolation to all those who are suffering and in mourning. The Holy Father sends his heartfelt holy apostolic blessing to you, as Pastor of the Catholic Community, as well as the priests, missionaries, male and female religious and to all faithful (of the region), so that you may dray strength from the Lord."  

Despite the fact that clashes have died down recently, there is still great tension felt in Ambon. Widespread fear has also led to reduction in travel to the islands, especially via airplane. 

The interim minister of political affairs and security, Hari Sabarno, has asked the leader of the Islamic fundamentalist organization,  Laskar Jihad, not to send militia forces to Ambon, as was announce a few days ago. The minister ordered the army and police to stop members of the organization from entering the region. However, Christian sources say thousands of the militants have already entered the Moluccas Islands via small ports located in Namlea (Buru Island) and Hitu (on the northern coast of Ambon).

Last year, the Muslim leader, Jafar Umar Thalib, commander of the Laskar Jihad militia that killed hundreds of Christians in the last Moluccas conflict (1999-2001), was released on orders from a Jakarta order.

On Saturday, May 1, police raided the home of Alex Manuputty and found a list of 295 names of FKM members, who are now the object of a manhunt. After having confiscated several personal belongings from his residence, among which were 2 RMS flags, police arrested his wife Oly Manuputty and daughter, Christina, in addition to 2 other "suspicious" women that were at his home.

Alex Manuputty, leader of the Sovereignity Moluccas Front (FKM) separatist movement fighting to found a the Southern Moluccas Republics, is currently in the United States.

Alex Manuputty and separatist cohort, Samuel Waileruni, were both arrested in 2002 and sentenced to 3-year jail terms for having urged their followers to fight for independence. Last year, Manuputty (who says the Indonesian legal system is biased against Christians) fled to the US while awaiting to make his appeal in the Supreme Court.

Indonesian authorities have outlawed his organization for having called a referendum for the region's full autonomy, similar to what has happened in East Timor under UN supervision.

Meanwhile, the toll of victims is growing in the Moluccas: a 16 year-old boy, Ricky Jacob Mahulette from the village of Latuhalat, was killed by sniper fire while fishing with a group of 18 others.

Clashes so far have provoked 37 deaths and injured 211 persons, of whom 86 are still undergoing treatment in hospitals. (MR)

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