Indonesian military leader calls for martial law in Maluku

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25 June 2000 (Newsroom) -- Indonesia's top military leader wants martial law imposed on the eastern province of Maluku to stem growing anarchy in the wake of last week's slaughter of 156 Christians by Muslim militia, the Jakarta Post reported. Since Wednesday, at least 47 Muslims and Christians have been killed and hundreds have been injured in clashes in the provincial capital of Ambon.

Despite resistance from President Abdurrahman Wahid, Admiral Widodo Adisutjipto said he believes martial law is necessary to stop the killings.

Christians in the region said over the weekend that Muslim jihad fighters have doubled their forces in an attempt to expel them from the region. As many as 3,000 troops arrived in the provincial capital of Ambon on Saturday despite a ban on travel to the region issued by the president on Friday, according to John Barr, secretary for Indonesia for the Uniting Church in Australia.

On Friday at least 20 people were killed and more than 100 seriously injured in Ambon. Mobs torched the Christian university, the state electricity offices, and the central telecommunications office, Indonesian television said.

Barr, who has been in telephone contact with local church leaders, says Ambon "faces a human disaster similar to what took place in Dili (East Timor) during September 1999." Law and order has completely broken down in Ambon, Barr said, and "the Muslim Jihad militia are attacking and burning the city with the support of the Indonesian army." Barr said that more arms, including guns and grenades, are being smuggled into the area. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced and food, medical care, and shelter is in short supply, he said.

Barr reported that church leaders planned to travel to Geneva on Sunday to meet with United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Mary Robinson. The delegation includes the Rev. Agustinus Aesh, moderator of the Evangelical Christian Church in Halmahera, Roman Catholic Bishop Mandagi of Ambon, and the Papal Nuncio in Jakarta.

According to some estimates, about 4,000 people have been killed in sectarian clashes in the islands since January 1999. Nearly half a million people have been forced to flee their homes and thousands of homes and buildings have been destroyed.

Recently, two British human rights organizations charged that reporting which suggests that Christians are equally to blame for the bloodshed has been used to justify calls by Muslim extremists to wage a holy war. Also, the United States Committee for Refugees joined them in claiming that elements of the Indonesian military continue to support the Islamic extremists.

On Thursday, the Indonesian navy evacuated 768 Christians from the Halmahera island village of Duma, where 156 Christians were killed in an attack June 19. The men, women, and children were taken to Halmahera's main town Tobelo, about 15 miles away. Most of the 3,000 villagers fled into the jungle, according to Barr, and are struggling to stay away from the fighting.

On Friday, Abdurrahman banned travel to the islands after a meeting with Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri and Admiral Widodo. The president alleged that people outside the Malukus are supplying the region with money to finance the conflict.

According to news reports, the fighting has led to an increasing number of Maluku islanders calling for independence. A mixed group of 11 Muslims and Christians, called the "Perkumpulan Pattimura Muda," signed a petition on May 15 calling for an independent republic. Some independence-minded leaders fear a backlash, however, recalling the short-lived South Maluku Republic, which was crushed by Indonesian forces after Maluku leaders declared independence in April 1950.

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