ad info

TIME Asia Home
Current Issue
Magazine Archive
Asia Buzz
Travel Watch
Web Features
  Photo Essays

Subscribe to TIME
Customer Services
About Us
Write to TIME Asia
TIME Canada
TIME Europe
TIME Pacific
TIME Digital
Latest CNN News

Young China
Olympics 2000
On The Road

  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Other News
From TIME Asia

Culture on Demand: Black is Beautiful
The American Express black card is the ultimate status symbol

Asia Buzz: Should the Net Be Free?
Web heads want it all -- for nothing

JAPAN: Failed Revolution
Prime Minister Yoshiro Mori clings to power as dissidents in his party finally decide not to back a no-confidence motion

Cover: Endgame?
After Florida's controversial ballot recount, Bush holds a 537-vote lead in the state, which could give him the election

TIME Digest

TIME Asia Services
Subscribe to TIME! Get up to 3 MONTHS FREE!

Bookmark TIME
TIME Media Kit
Recent awards

TIME Asia Asiaweek Asia Now TIME Asia story

JANUARY 24, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 3

A Wasteland Called Peace
Indonesia's army sets up a ring of steel around troubled Ambon, but the killing isn't likely to stop

Greg Girard -- Contact Press Images for TIME
A yearlong orgy of sectarian violence has left Ambon neighborhoods scorched and gutted.

No one would mistake the calm of Ambon for peace. The capital of Maluku province--epicenter of a yearlong orgy of religious violence--has been carved up into exclusive "sectors" by its Muslim and Christian residents. During the day Indonesian soldiers search neighborhoods for homemade rifles, spear guns and petrol bombs; at night tanks patrol the rubble-strewn streets. The main Muslim sector is a narrow, 4-km corridor lined with refugee camps, fish markets and charred buildings. Taxi drivers loiter on the sidewalks, since driving within the few kilometers would yield only a few cents. "I feel like I'm living in a cage," says Yusnita Tiakoly, a university student who, along with most of her peers, has not been to class in a year.

The ring of steel that the Indonesian military has thrown around the Moluccas--the fabled Spice Islands--has restored only the semblance of normalcy to the region. According to the military, the pace has slowed, leaving a death toll of about 600 since Dec. 26, when a bus driven by a Christian allegedly hit a Muslim boy in Ambon. But the quiet owes more to the presence of close to 10,000 troops than to any reconciliation. Across the islands of Maluku and North Maluku, thousands of villagers have withdrawn into their communities, loath to cross religious lines and quick to respond to rumors with mobs and machetes. Many fear that this week's anniversary of the first religious riots to strike Ambon could spark renewed violence. "Since last Jan. 19, there have been so many victims that the feeling of revenge is very deep," says Agus Wattimena, a tattooed Christian militant who carries a Colt .45 pistol and claims to have 60,000 men under his command. "Both sides are at a breaking point."

Cover: The Medium Is the Message
America Online's takeover of media giant Time Warner is not just the biggest deal in history. It's a sign that the Net future many have been predicting has indeed arrived

China: Opiate Wars
As citizens look outside the Communist Party for solace, officials struggle to harness the unwieldy tentacles of religion

Malaysia: Payback Time
Some Mahathir opponents get their knuckles rapped

Indonesia: Calm Before the Storm
Religious differences have turned the Moluccas into a battlefield, filled with hate and the prospect of more violence

Taiwan: Balls and Brickbats
Gangsters and illegal betting send baseball into a tailspin

Japan: Killer Concrete
Shoddy materials plague the bullet trains and other projects

Indonesia: Chaos in the Islands
Little did the hijackers know that one of the hostages sitting in economy class could have effortlessly written them a check for $200 million

Indonesia: Too Many Cooks?
President Abdurrahman Wahid cobbles together a cabinet that appears to be more eclectic than effective

The Vision Thing
Abdurrahman Wahid has trouble seeing and needs help walking, but 210 million Indonesians must now hope their new President can lead them out of the darkness

Photo Essay
The streets of Jakarta in the hours leading up to the selection of Wahid and Megawati

Breaking news from Southeast Asia

Cry for a Holy War
Jakarta feels the reverberations from Ambon

In fact, no one really knows whether the violence has actually ebbed. In Jakarta an embattled General Wiranto, Coordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs, used his own military's casualty figures to declare that the situation has stabilized. Yet both Muslim and Christian sources hotly dispute the numbers: by some estimates, more than 3,000 members of both faiths have been killed in North Maluku alone in recent weeks. On the island of Halmahera last week, Muslim aid groups claimed to have found the charred corpses of more than 500 of their co-religionists and buried them in mass graves. Some Christian groups deny any such massacre occurred.

The facts that all sides agree upon are more foreboding. Some 276,000 refugees have been scattered throughout and beyond the Moluccas, bringing with them little more than their fears and resentments. Areas like North Sulawesi, now home to 13,000 refugees from North Maluku, already suffer from religious tensions that could easily be exacerbated by the newcomers. "I'm very worried that Manado will be the next Maluku," says political commentator Fachry Ali, who recently returned from the North Sulawesi capital. There, local Muslims chafing at what they see as Christian dominance have already asked for their own province. If clashes break out, says Ali, they would likely be supported by their brethren in the predominantly Muslim province of South Sulawesi, which has also accepted thousands of refugees.

The Mysterious Roots of Mayhem:
Neither side in Ambon says it wants a fight, and yet the violence seems unstoppable
Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid has ordered the Navy to intercept any Muslim militants who may try to stoke those fires. But forces far from Maluku continue to wield the bloodshed to their political advantage. "The whole tragedy has become part of a national chess game," complains Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina. Parliamentary heavyweights Amien Rais and Akbar Tandjung have rallied Muslim anger in the capital in a show of strength aimed at Wahid and his Vice President, Megawati Sukarnoputri. Locals in Ambon argue that the military, threatened by a civilian administration and the possibility of prosecution for human-rights abuses, has again manipulated the violence to justify an iron hand. Even those who have difficulty pointing to a culprit are unable to shake the feeling that local rivalries alone cannot explain such bloodshed. "Violence of this magnitude would never have spread so quickly without some type of provocation or organization," says Abdurrahman Khouw, vice chairman of the local Council of Indonesian Ulemas, an influential, nation-wide Muslim organization. "Until we can find what or who is at the root of the problem, we can only call for restraint."

Unfortunately, that kind of indecision may only prolong the search for a lasting solution to Maluku's divisions. So far Wahid has treated the problem at a remove: last week he ousted the army spokesman, who had questioned his right to intervene in military affairs. Such moves may protect the President from his enemies in Jakarta, but they hardly address the cloud of mistrust and anger that has poisoned the air throughout Maluku. "What is happening is like a vicious virus tearing through both communities," says Dr. Sudirman Abbas, the only general practitioner left at the only hospital in the Muslim sector of Ambon. "If the right dose and treatment is not applied, the epidemic will spread." What Jakarta found last week was a Band-Aid, not a cure.

Reported by Zamira Loebis/Jakarta and Jason Tedjasukmana/Ambon

This edition's table of contents
TIME Asia home


Quick Scroll: More stories from TIME, Asiaweek and CNN


U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Time Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.