ASIA/INDONESIA - President Megawati visits Ambon amidst tension and fear - Political, social and religious leaders strive to prevent another conflict

Friday, 21 May 2004

Ambon (Fides Service) - Tension is high in Ambon, capital of the Indonesian archipelago of Moluccas. Local sources told Fides there are barricades in several streets and people are still afraid to leave the house. The city - which was trying to return to normal life after three years of ethnic clashes - is a ghost town since the outbreak of fresh violence a month ago and “the atmosphere is one of apparent calm charged with tension”. Widespread fear is due to “provocateurs and radical Muslim militants” seen, according to eyewitnesses in and around the city, ready to start a new conflict.
In the meantime tomorrow 22 May Ambon will receive a visit from Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri. Her visit, although brief, confirms that Jakarta takes the situation in the Moluccas into consideration because of the present campaign for presidential elections on July 5.
According to local observers in the questions of ethnic tension between Muslims and Protestant Christians in Moluccas an intruding third party is fomenting violence. In fact people from outside provoked the clashes last month, as Indonesian religious leaders denounced.
In 1999-2001 the islands lived three years of violent clashes between the two local ethnic communities who are also of different religions, Christian and Muslim. The violence became worse when thousands of radical Muslim mujaheddin members of Laskar Jihad came to take sides with the local Muslims and this group could return to start more clashes.
The latest outbreak of fighting on 25 April was the worst since the peace agreement reached in February 2002, put an end to years of violence in which 15,000 people were killed and millions of islanders were displaced. Since the peace agreement life had gradually returned to normal in Ambon with a growing atmosphere of reconciliation and good will among the two communities.
The local Forum of Religious Leaders, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Hindu and Confucian, has stressed that the violence is not a religious war urging people “not to give way to provocateurs with political aims”, and calling on the local police to identify and pursue those who “are against peace in the Moluccas”.
Local religious, civil and political leaders and social organisations are working together to prevent a new outbreak of violence and restore peace and harmony.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 21/5/2004 lines 43 words 431)