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FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) About Bloody Ramadhan in
Maluku, Indonesia
3000 Muslims slaughtered in 5 months. 800 killed overnight on
December 28, 1999. Women raped on streets. Dozens burned alive
in mosques in eastern Indonesian province of Maluku, the site
of the year-long religious war between Muslims and
1. How has such atrocity been allowed to happen in the world
largest Muslim country?
Firstly, the massacre took place in a group of islands that
is, religio-culturally, most influenced by the Dutch
colonialism which began in the 17th century. During the
Independence War (1945-1949), many Christian Malukus joined
the Dutch Army (KNIL) to fight the newly founded Republic of
Secondly, Muslims in these islands are a minority --they make
up less than 40 percent of the total population of ...
million. Thirdly, the province of Maluku, which consists of
more than ... big and small islands, is remote from the
capital city of Jakarta. It is located about 3-hour flight
from Jakarta. It takes more than one day of sea transportation
from the provincial capital of Ambon to villages and scattered
spots where the massacre took place. The religious war erupted
on January 19, 1999, when Christian mobs in Ambon attacked
Muslim villagers who were celebrating the Eid-el-Fitri day
following a petty street quarrel between two men from the two
2. Why has the Indonesian government, which is led by a Muslim
cleric, failed to prevent or curb the ongoing atrocities?
Neither President Abdurrahman Wahid, who was elected the
fourth president last October, nor the previous president B.J.
Habibie had control over the military or its operations in the
handling of Maluku violence. They are different from the
second president, five-star general Suharto, who remains to be
influential among some military key-figures (such as General
Wiranto) even after he was toppled in May 1998.
Despite his status as long-time leader of Indonesias largest
Islamic organization Nahdlatul Ulama, Abdurrahman Wahid does
not have a strong record in coming to the defense of Muslims
in the face of attacks or oppression during the previous
regimes. He is a strong proponent of Kemal Attaturks secular
concepts, and is known to favor his socialist,
Christian-Catholic activist friends over other national Muslim
leaders. For instance, he only became close to Amien Rais
--leader of Muhammadiyah Islamic organization, whom he always
disagreed with previously-- in the runup to the presidential
3. Why has the military failed to launch massive action to
curb the violence?
Firstly, the Indonesian military is secular --it used to avoid
any entanglement with any religious parties. However, in
practice, the militarys stance on Islam and Muslims depends
greatly on the individuals interests of its generals.
In the beginning of  the Suharto era (1968-1989), the military
was very oppressive toward Muslims which was a part of the New
Order regimes policy on Islam; any signs of Muslim politics
were crushed swiftly. When Suharto made an about-face and
started to become more friendly toward Muslims during his last
decade in power, the military followed the same path. After
Suharto was toppled by the 1998 reform movement, fractions
within the army became unavoidable. This led to, among other
things, a loosening of control over the military; soldiers
dealing with protests or riots, for instance, often acted in
confusion and took harsh measures which their supervisors
usually would later admit as uncalled-for or even acts of
In the case of Maluku violence, the Christian regional army
commander, Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela, has gone and admitted that
he did not have full control over his men in the field. Some
reports said Tamaela had actually been in hiding on December
28, 1999, when Christian mobs attacked Muslim villages and
killed some 800 people, raped countless women and burned
dozens of Muslims alive in a mosque in Halmahera district.
In addition, Muslim and Christian soldiers in the regional
army have been proven to have taken side with their own
religious groups. The civilian provincial government, which is
predominated by Muslims, has proved to be equally helpless in
curbing the violence. The previous attempts at
military-initiated reconciliation between the two sides have
been futile so far and agreements were never honored for more
than one day. The effort to invoke Pela-Gandong, a traditional
agreement to respect one another, has failed miserably, too.
4. Has there been domestic pressure, especially from the
Muslim community in the rest of the country, on the government
to take more serious action?
On January 7, 2000, before performing their Friday prayer,
hundreds of thousands of Muslim gathered at the National
Monument Park, which is located in front of the presidential
palace at the center of the capital, to launch the One Million
Muslims Declaration. They demanded that the government take a
serious and immediate action to put a stop to the massacre in
Maluku; otherwise Muslims in the country will go to jihad in
order to end the suffering of their brethren there.
In the previous week, KAMMI (the United Indonesian Muslim
Student Action) had called for jihad in Maluku as a response
to the weaknesses of the government and the military. They
also demanded that Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri resign
over her failure in  handling Maluku violence. During the year
of 1999, a number of both Muslims and Christians from various
other parts of the country have gone to Maluku to fight along
their religious brothers. Last week, however, President
Abdurrahman Wahid ordered the military to arrest anyone
entering Maluku for the purpose of taking part in the
5. Is there any foreign parties involvement in the conflict?
Analysts have disclosed indications of foreign involvement.
The Indonesian government under first president Sukarno
crushed the Netherland-based separatist movement South Maluku
Republic (RMS), but its leaders and activists are so far still
active in their exile in the Netherlands. FMJ Tutuhatunewa,
the president of the RMS has publicly admitted to financially
supporting the Christian side in the war. Smuggling of
weaponry in large volume had been disclosed by the authority
nearby several churches.
Analysts predicted that after the East Timor fiasco, certain
foreign parties will turn to eastern Indonesia and create
there a center of instability for their own interests. One
needs to bear in mind that the region has an enormous amount
of natural resource which has yet to be explored. During the
height of the 1998 political crisis that led to Soehartos
dethronement, rumors circulated that the USA was interested in
establishing a military base in Biak-Numfor, a group of
islands in Irian Jaya province nearby Maluku, and in East
Timor. The rumored plan of the base was said to be a
substitute for  the Clark and Subic (the Philippines) military
bases that were closed in 1996. Wallaahualam.
5. How is the refugee situation one year after the war
There are an estimated 200,000 people, mostly Muslims,
displaced because of the conflict. Non-Malukus refugees fled
to their homeland in neighboring provinces such as South and
Central Maluku, where they no longer have relatives or
properties because they had been residents of Maluku for
In most cases, the refugees live in appalling condition. Some
50,000 Muslims who fled to Buton in Central Sulawesi have been
living in plastic tents or any other shelters including the
wall-less school gymnasiums where sanitation is poor and clean
water is almost non-existent. In other refugee camps in Ambon,
Tual, Ternate and Tidore in Maluku, children suffer and die
from diarrhea, respiratory tract infections and malnutrition.
6. Is there an end in sight to the Maluku war?
No one can foresee the end, given the local and national
political and security situation. Maluku is now like a rice
barn being razed to the ground with the fire going out of
control and spreading fast. The "devil parties" interested to
see all this destruction need only to snap their fingers to
ensure that it continues.
Indonesian Muslim Society in Britain and Eire (KIBAR)

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