Ambon (Fides Service) - Christian and Muslim city districts rigidly separated, fear reigns and a new conflict threatens: Moluccas is paying for the electoral campaign in Jakarta, Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi, Bishop of Amboina, Ambon, Moluccas told Fides in an exclusive interview. The Bishop explains the reasons for the recent outbreak of violence. Clashes between Muslims and a small group of Christi separatists on April 25, left 36 people dead, more than 200 buildings destroyed including a Protestant church and Ambon’s Christian University.
Between 1999 and 2001 inter-ethnic clashes caused 15,000 deaths and left more than 500,000 displaced persons. The dispute was settled with a peace agreement signed in 2002.
Bishop Mandagi explains: “Today the situation is better than two or three days ago but people are still restricted in their movement. One again the city’s Christian and Muslim districts are rigidly separated. This is the quickest way to stop violence. There is no shooting or shelling and there are no demonstrations but there is tension and people are still very afraid”.
Bishop Mandagi explains what caused this new outbreak of violence: “The violence was obviously provoked by groups with political aims and it is connected with elections in Indonesia.. There are people who want to stir up violence and instability in the Moluccas to demonstrate that the country needs a strong leadership, a member of the army, although today he is no longer in the armed forces. These clashes in Ambon are a sort of extended electoral campaign and the people of Moluccas are paying the price”.
The Bishop says “the conflict was fed by separatists SMR Southern Moluccas Republic led by Alex Manuputty, who emigrated to the United States. The SMR is only a small group and it would seem to want to make its voice heard. However Muslim fundamentalists took advantage of the April 25 anniversary of the dreamed of SMR to set the town ablaze. It was obvious that the violence was programmed and carefully”.
Bishop Mandagi warns: “Threats that Muslim warriors are on their way to the Islands from outside Indonesia is a repeat of the past when members of the radical Laskar Jihad group came to join what they called a ‘holy war’. If there are foreign interventions the conflict could degenerate. The central and local authorities must take the situation in hand to prevent this from happening”.
The Bishop says that local religious leaders have an important role to help end the conflict: “As religious leaders yesterday we had a meeting with political and military authorities. I made it clear that Christians and Muslims in Moluccas want peace but that after three years of conflict the situation is very tense and people are still suffering from trauma and are easily provoked. Everyone in Ambon is afraid. All the Christians fear they will be regarded as separatists with the SMR which is not true. The Muslims are worried about the international situation in Iraq and the Middle East, and fear an international intervention, so they claim their Muslim identity. The war is still too recent and scars remain and it is easy to trigger new outbreaks of violence in a context where reconciliation is still fragile”.
Bishop Mandagi concludes listing three necessary points to end the conflict: “First of all the central government must help rebuild the Moluccas economy; secondly order and respect for law must be guaranteed not only by separatists and paramilitary but also by common criminals who take advantage of the chaos looting homes and structures; thirdly there must be dialogue. Representatives of the different communities and groups must sit down at the table and talk until a solution is reached. This is the only path for peace”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 29/4/2004 lines 69 words 811)