ASIA/INDONESIA - “If only the conflicting parties would see how the people suffer!”: director of Indonesian Catholic Bishops’ “Crisis and Reconciliation Service” says to Fides

Tuesday, 22 February 2005

Banda Aceh (Fides Service) - “Peace is possible if both sides (government and rebels) would only see how the people suffer”: Father Ignazio Ismartono, SJ, head of the Indonesian Bishops’ Conference Crisis and Reconciliation Service. Father Ismartono was secretary of the Bishops’ Commission for Interreligious Dialogue for many years is an expert in mediation and dialogue. Twice in recent years he led a group of Indonesian religious leaders, including moderate Muslims, on a visit to Pope John Paul II in Rome. Now he is working to promote reconciliation between rebels and the government in Jakarta in Aceh where the people are struggling with post-tsunami difficulties.
“The tsunami disaster put us in front of three stages: emergency, rehabilitation and re-building. We are now at the stage of rehabilitation but with regard to rebuilding there is tension. The civil society, intellectuals and human rights all want a new Aceh, of peace, freedom, democracy and respect for human rights. But there are others who want Aceh to remain in a state of civil emergency, as it was before the tsunami, a situation of violence which causes great suffering for the people” Fr Ismartono told Fides.
“What is needed is general coordination. Some organisation concentrate more on bureaucracy that action and this makes everything very slow. It is necessary to understand the local situation to avoid giving aid through the wrong channels, which people then reject. Some aid organisations in Aceh are said to be ‘tools in the hands of the army’ others are accused of proselytising. Our “Crisis and Reconciliation Service”, opened by the Catholics Bishops’ Conference of Indonesia, uses Catholic funds and works with local Muslims” Fr Ismartono explains
“With regard to interreligious relations, on the field I have not seen the threats by Islamic extremists of which the newspapers are full. On the contrary I see local Catholic and Muslim religious leaders working together to plan a joint programme for rebuilding homes destroyed in the tsunami. Muslim and Christian volunteers are working together. Many of these helpers are university students who now have no means of studying. I hope to provide them with study grants through donors in Europe. These are young people who are open to the values of freedom, justice, tolerance and reciprocal respect and they need help to continue their studies and build a new Aceh”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 22/2/2005 righe 34 parole 335)