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Indonesia: Overcoming Murder and Chaos in Maluku

Intercommunal violence in Indonesia’s Maluku region during the past two years has left over 5,000 people dead and displaced roughly 500,000 more. The smouldering tensions erupted again in November and December, leaving approximately 100 dead and the city of Ambon in a state approaching civil war. Christian and Moslem religious holidays in the last week of December will almost certainly lead to more clashes unless steps are taken to protect communities and constrain the fighters. The outlook is for much higher death-tolls in the months to come. The conflict has divided Malukan society along religious lines – Moslem versus Christian – even though the origins of the fighting are multi-layered and involve ethnic, economic and political rivalries. A cyclical pattern of fighting has been established, but it has increased in intensity over time. Until this pattern changes, bloodshed in the region will continue and the Christian-Moslem divide will widen, with consequences that will extend beyond the Maluku region.

During the first fifteen months of fighting, the Moslem and Christian fighters were more or less equally engaged in localised fighting. But between April and June 2000, well-organised Moslem militias established a dominance in the violence that has not been challenged since. The turning point was the arrival in Maluku of members of the Java-based Laskar Jihad, a radical Moslem organisation that had received military training and access to arms from sympathisers in the military. A Christian massacre of about 500 Moslem villagers at the end of December 1999 created the domestic political conditions that allowed the emergence of Laskar Jihad. Important Moslem political leaders saw it as a force dedicated to the protection of endangered Moslems. Laskar Jihad is now the main source of continuing bloodshed, something acknowledged by President Abdurrahman Wahid’s government. Laskar Jihad increased its numbers in Maluku in the lead-up to the most recent violence. The group has turned intermittent fighting between two communities into a campaign of 'religious cleansing'. The group’s leaders have defiantly declared they will not leave Maluku until their work is done.

Government authorities, at both the national and regional levels, have been largely ineffective in containing the violence, let alone in dealing with the underlying causes. The government has not tried to remove Laskar Jihad, or even just its leaders, from the region, partly because they have been linked with sympathetic elements within the military and partly because the government appears to want to avoid the political cost of opposing a pro-Moslem force. Moreover, it is widely believed that certain national politicians and military officers who have been displaced by the Wahid government are encouraging violence in Maluku and elsewhere as a means to discredit and destabilise the current administration. The military and police in Maluku, pursuing a variety of motives, have joined the fighting on both sides, although the intervention of predominantly Moslem military personnel has more often, although certainly not always, favoured the Moslem militias.

Although the two provinces of Maluku are only a tiny piece of the sprawling Indonesian state – and hold just 1 per cent of Indonesia’s 200-million people – the Maluku violence cannot be fenced off or ignored. The impunity for killing, destruction and forced displacement sends a signal that such serious criminal actions will be tolerated. While the circumstances in Maluku are not replicated closely in other parts of the country, many parts of Indonesia have serious social or economic divisions, and are therefore at some risk of contagion from large-scale, organised political violence if provocateurs decide to go down that path.

Lacking an effective security force, the Abdurrahman Wahid government has allowed the killing in the Maluku region to simmer for almost two years without formulating a clear strategy to overcome the violence. One element of such a strategy must be the removal of the Laskar Jihad from the two provinces but this will not be enough. It is essential that the security forces are capable of protecting both communities and particularly that the removal of the Laskar Jihad is not followed by renewed attacks by Christian militias on Moslems. Peace cannot be restored until both Moslems and Christians feel that their own personal security is guaranteed. It is crucial that the government regain control of its police and military forces in Maluku and that these forces act in a neutral way between the rival communities.


To the Indonesian Government:

1. The early arrest and trial of Laskar Jihad and Christian militia leaders who are responsible for murder, violence and destruction is necessary to deter further violence. This will need to be backed up with appropriate measures in the investigative and judicial systems.

2. The government should implement its stated policy of removing non-Malukan members of the Laskar Jihad from the two provinces - gradually if necessary, but determinedly.

3. While removing the Laskar Jihad, it is essential that the security forces ensure that this is not followed by attacks on Moslems by Christian militias: the security forces must be able to guarantee the security of Moslems and Christians alike.

4. It is necessary that all militias ultimately be disarmed, but that must occur in the context of a broader program introducing and credibly enforcing the rule of law.

5. It is absolutely essential that military and police personnel should play a peacekeeping role and refrain from joining in the fighting. They must not assist combatants in other ways such as through the supply of weapons and ammunition. Tighter security measures should be imposed on military stocks.

6. Security personnel must be properly supplied with food, accommodation and equipment.

7. Officers entrusted with raising funds on behalf of the military should not acquire personal benefits that give them an interest in prolonging the conflict.

8. Security personnel responsible for serious crimes in the fighting should be arrested and prosecuted.

9. The TNI must take care its repressive measures do not get out of hand and that non-lethal methods of crowd control are only abandoned as a last resort.

10. Unless the military can demonstrate that it can carry out its duties in a professional and neutral way, the civil emergency should not be raised to a military emergency.

11. The national government should give a strong lead to religious leaders, both Moslem and Christian, not only to refrain from exacerbating the conflict but also to criticise in the strongest possible terms premeditated killing.

12. Members of the government should refrain from making unsubstantiated allegations about foreign and Indonesian provocateurs since these allegations only feed the suspicions and insecurities of the warring communities.

13. The national government should continue to encourage discussions between members of both the Moslem and Christian communities on ways to overcome the conflict and future political structures in the two provinces.

14. The government could consider setting up a special tribunal to try perpetrators of gross violations of human rights. An investigation into the causes of the violence and a published report could be conducted by a team of Indonesians credible to both sides although care should be taken to avoid exacerbating existing tensions.

15. The creation of safe zones where both sides can conduct daily business – particularly in economically vital ports and markets – would be a useful measure.

16. The Indonesian government needs to ensure security for international humanitarian workers supporting refugees.

To Foreign Governments:

17. Foreign military intervention in Maluku would be counter-productive, could easily lead to further destabilisation in Indonesia, and should not be sought.

18. Consideration should nonetheless be given to offering foreign observers, preferably from ASEAN countries, as potentially helpful in creating confidence in Indonesian military and police neutrality.

19. Foreign suppliers are justified in maintaining or imposing embargoes on the export of weapons to Indonesia so long as the Indonesian military and police cannot prevent their weapons falling into the hands of militias determined to use them against members of other religious or ethnic communities.

20. Foreign governments should be willing to assist the TNI and the police to upgrade the quality of its personnel by providing suitable training programs for peacekeeping.

21. Foreign governments should remind the Indonesian government that gross violations of human rights have occurred in Maluku and that the failure of the Indonesian government to deal with these violations will continue to prompt calls for international action.

22. Foreign governments should be sensitive to local conditions when making statements, and be careful to note that both Moslems and Christian civilians have experienced extreme suffering.

23. Donors should monitor needs identified by relevant international humanitarian organisations and UN agencies and aim to respond more quickly to these needs.

24. The international community should be ready to assist Indonesia with money and investigative resources to re-establish the rule of law.

25. Foreign donors should consider the provision of special funding for the two Maluku provinces conditional on progress toward reducing the level of violence.

JAKARTA/BRUSSELS, 19 December 2000


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