Maluku peace a long way off
By Amy Chew
JAKARTA, Indonesia -- Peace is remote in Indonesia's eastern Maluku islands, where a bloody religious war erupted two years ago as both Christians and Muslims reject demands to accept responsibility for violence that has killed more than 10,000.
Maluku is an explosive issue that has the potential to spark religious divide in the world's fourth most populous nation of 210 million people.
It is the crucible that is testing the survival of multi-religious Indonesia's existence as a pluralist state. The conflict has already galvanized thousands of Muslims to wage a jihad, or religious war, in Maluku.
Reconciliation there is further hampered by radical Muslims who vehemently oppose moderate Muslims seeking to foster peace with Christians.
"The radical Muslims are very anti-reconciliation," said Malik Selang, a moderate Muslim forced to leave his home following attacks by "radicals."
"They (radicals) have broadcast on their radio service that 'Those who carry out reconciliation must be killed,'" he added.
Silenced by radicals
Senior military sources in Maluku said moderate Muslims were largely silenced by radicals wielding tremendous power and influence.
"They (Muslims) are dominated by the hardline Muslims from the jihad army who come from outside of Maluku. Grass root Muslims do want peace," said a senior military source.
Maluku's violence was triggered by a dispute between a Christian bus driver and a Muslim that spiraled out of control in January 1999 in the provincial capital of Ambon.
The first victims were Muslims who were killed by mobs of Christians. Muslim revenge followed the attack immediately.
Soon the violence spread throughout scores of islands that make up Maluku and perpetuated itself through a vicious cycle of revenge killings.
The killings shattered Maluku's religious harmony, held up as a model for the rest of the country. Parts of Ambon have since been reduced to rubble and the island carved into Christian and Muslim enclaves.
The Muslims want the Christians to take responsibility for the violence, as the Muslims were the first victims of the conflict.
"If the Christians could just realize that they started the conflict and say 'sorry,' and not repeat it again, it would be finished. The Muslims would forgive as they are forgiving people," said Idrus Tatuhey, head of Muhammadiyah, a Muslim educational group.
"But this has gone on too long ... therefore the Muslims feel the only way to resolve this is through war," he said.
While expressing a desire for reconciliation, Christians have rejected the demand to take responsibility for the violence, saying that no one knows for sure who started the violence. Analysts have said that the conflict was instigated by "provocateurs."
"Do we really know who started the violence? Nobody knows for sure and that's why Christians have refused to apologize and take responsibility," said a church activist who declined to be named.
In July 2000, at the peak of the violence, then defense minister Juwono Sudarsono said former cabinet ministers and rogue generals, both active and retired, directed and funded Maluku's violence.
Reverend Sammy Titaley believes "provocateurs" are also at work in obstructing the peace process.
"Every time there are efforts to bring Muslims and Christians to hold dialogues, violence will erupt," said Titaley.
"It has happened so many times, as if there is somebody in the background, provocateurs, preventing the two sides from coming together. As such, both parties have not sat down together to talk till today," he added.
While large-scale violence has stopped since the beginning of this year, shootings still erupt sporadically and people continue to be killed.
Peace in Maluku is important not just to rebuild the shattered islands but also to strengthen the existing religious tolerance in the rest of the country.
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