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  Indonesia's Maluku crises: the issues

Several thousand people have died and hundreds of thousands have become refugees in the last eighteen months as the result of inter-communal fighting in Indonesia’s Maluku islands. The conflict continues at a high level of intensity despite the declaration of a state of emergency in June 2000.

The International Crisis Group (ICG) releases today a briefing paper aiming at identifying the very complex issues involved in the genesis and resolution of this conflict.

Though often described in terms of a Christian-Moslem fight, at the core of the Maluku violence lies economic and political competition between local interests. Wrapped around this core is a series of external problems, ranging from the national agenda of a resurgent group of Moslem politicians to efforts by some segments of the military to undermine the government of Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid.

The conflict in Maluku is closely linked to Indonesia’s chronic ongoing national crisis. Apart from longer term problems like internal migration policy, and the problem of achieving reconciliation, the issues needing most urgent attention are:

Commitment by Jakarta: While the government faces powerful resource and political constraints, it must give clearer and stronger direction. Gus Dur’s stated willingness this week to possibly accept some international support is to be welcomed, although it is not clear that any major change of direction is being signalled.

Role of the military: Crucial questions that must be addressed here are the demographic composition of units, participation by some military in the conflict itself, operational constraints, low salaries and general demoralisation.

Maluku’s civil administration: Local civil administration has effectively broken down and has to be reconstructed – to the extent this is possible - on the basis of more balanced representation.

Emergency and arrest powers: The continuing argument as to the nature and limits of emergency powers – civil or military – and how arrest powers are to be used, must be quickly resolved.

The international community must be aware of all these issues when reacting to developments in Maluku. The Indonesian authorities, especially the military, need to fundamentally reassess their performance and address the crisis with much more vigour than they have so far displayed – but there are no quick or easy solutions.


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