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'There are NO Christians Left in Ternate'

Monday, August 27, 2001 | Tag Cloud Tags:

Special to Compass Direct

MANADO, Indonesia (Compass) -- "There are no Christians left in Ternate," said George Saselah, who had left his farm there to join his wife and newborn daughter in a refugee camp in Manado, on Indonesia's North Sulawesi island.

Other refugees interviewed in Manado -- including some who had fled Ternate in November 1999 -- confirmed Saselah's dramatic statement.

"I have just returned from a visit to Halmahera," said Rev. Androcles Rumopah. "I went with one of the refugees from here. We can confirm that the churches have been burnt down and all the Christians have left. In fact, the Muslims are fighting over Christian property."

The religious violence that began on eastern Indonesia's Ambon island in 1999 soon spread to other islands in the Maluku chain (also known as the Moluccas). Ternate, the largest settlement and port of the northern Malukus, is itself an island. Its rich volcanic soil lends itself to the growing of cloves for which it is well known.

For years Muslims and Christians have lived harmoniously on Ternate, not only tolerating each other but also sharing in each other's festivities.

"At Christmas, we would happily invite our Muslim neighbors to share a meal with us to mark the occasion, and reciprocally, they would invite us to partake with them at the time of their festival Idul Fitri," one refugee said.

"Nobody believed that the anti-Christian violence taking place in the rest of Indonesia could come to the Malukus. We had our code of brotherhood, 'pela gandong-basudara,' which helped us to move forward together. Then suddenly, there came the attacks on Ambonese churches, and it wasn't long before violence flared up in the Kao region. It started over a border dispute with Muslims from Malifut, and the dispute spread to Ternate where it became fully-fledged religious cleansing.

"Some 60 people were killed over several weeks and many churches were burnt down. We are just 700 refugees in this camp, but many more have fled to Tobelo in the west of Halmahera or to some of the other islands. There must be thousands of refugees, and not only Christian."

The refugees say they prefer the rudimentary facilities of the refugee camp at Diklat, Manado, to their own land and homes on Halmahera because they feel safe. The government supplies rice and water, and there are attempts to get jobs for the refugees. Some have turned to fishing. But most would like to return if they could.

"We want to go back to Halmahera," said Ike Talangamin, "but is the Indonesian army going to protect us or will the harassment start again?"

"I want to go back," said George, who was once in the merchant navy but is now a plantation farmer. "When I can, I go back to Halmahera to see what is happening. But I don't want to risk my family yet."

The Forum for Justice in Northern Malukus (FPUKMU) recently issued statistics gathered from 31 locations in central Halmahera and the northern Malukus: killed so far in the conflict -- 3,931; seriously wounded -- 746; injured -- 632; destroyed houses of worship -- 206 (168 churches and 38 mosques); destroyed private houses -- 14,217; destroyed schools -- 115.

Since the trouble started in late 1999, Christians have been driven from the islands of Bacan, Obi, Morotai and Tidore, as well as Ternate. Only on Taliabu and Mangole are there still Muslims and Christians living side by side. Muslims have been forced from the northern part of Halmahera island.

At the end of July, the official number of refugees or displaced persons in North Maluku was 187,242. This figure included Muslims and Christians.

Christians have also been taken hostage. On June 19 at 5 a.m., about 5,000 Muslim fighters attacked the Christian village of Duma on Halmahera. They killed 176 residents and injured 137, including women, children and the elderly. Ten women and 20 children were abducted.

The Protestant church was burned to the ground, along with all those who had sought refuge in it, and 292 houses were destroyed. The military force stationed in Duma to protect the villagers was withdrawn before the attack. Only a few of the soldiers remained, and according to reports from survivors, these men opened fire on the residents, making it easy for the attackers to carry out their destruction.

Tobelo, on the eastern side of Halmahera, experienced a new wave of attacks in June and residents remain tense. Threats that attacks are about to come are made frequently and everybody is on the alert. No one can relax, even when it is apparent that the attacks are not going to materialize.

In late July, there were reports of more Muslim jihad fighting troops arriving on the island of Tidore, which has become a Muslim stronghold. The troops reportedly came from Aceh, in northern Sumatra, along with some Madurese from West Kalimantan.

Muslims justify their aggression against Christians by saying they are opposing anti-Indonesian separatists known as the RMS (South Maluku Republic) dissidents. Muslim jihad leader Jafar Umar Thalib is quoted as saying that he has no intention of withdrawing his jihad warriors from the Malukus as long as the "Christian RMS rebels have not raised the white flag."

Corruption has hindered the supply of food and other aid, especially when aid is destined for the furthest islands. Indonesian Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri had declared a donation of a large quantity of rice when she visited the northern tip of the Malukus, Morotai Island, in April. Subsequently, bags of this gift of rice were discovered being retailed on the open market. Of four ambulances donated at the same time, two were reassigned for the victims of the earthquake near Bengkulu, while the other two were still in Jakarta in August awaiting delivery.

Meanwhile, attacks continue on the islands of Seram and Ambon, as further violence is threatening the central and northern Malukus.

"The Christians incessantly cry out for help. If the violence cannot be stopped, they want at least the chance to escape by ship. If the Jakarta government will not help us, what can the international community do?" asked one refugee.

Copyright © 2000 Compass Direct News Service. Used with permission.

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Worthy Christian News » Christian Persecution » 'There are NO Christians Left in Ternate'