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No hiding place

"No hiding place" Continued...

Issue: "Locking up the big guns," Aug. 12, 2000

Many groups, focused on the fight for independence in East Timor and its dearth of UN operations, have ignored the violence in Maluku. "This is much more serious for Indonesia than East Timor because it involves a conflict of elites in Jakarta," former presidential aide Umar Juoro told The New York Times.

"The political elements outweigh the religious elements of the conflict on a grand scheme, but locally it is played out in religious terms. Muslims are persecuting Christians," said the unnamed mission worker.

In a July 31 letter to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, the religious freedom commission said it was "deeply concerned" about violence between Christians and Muslims in Indonesia. Commission chairman Elliott Abrams wrote: "There is evidence that the Indonesian government is not controlling its armed forces, resulting in murder, forced mass resettlement, and torture."

Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-Pa.) traveled to Indonesia in May to investigate the fighting. He said the influx of Laskar jihad fighters "has only happened through complicity of members of the military who have allowed a mass influx of men and arms into the Ambonese communities." In footage shot July 15 and 16 by Associated Press Television News, Indonesian soldiers and an armored vehicle were seen providing covering fire for Muslim fighters attacking a Christian neighborhood.

In a July speech in the U.S. House of Representatives, Mr. Pitts charged that leaders of the jihad militias are Suharto supporters. President Suharto has maintained his base of support among the military. He has reportedly used it to destabilize the presidency of Mr. Wahid, who plans to take the Indonesian president to trial on corruption charges, if he can stay in power long enough. Mr. Pitts said Indonesian soldiers were seen fighting alongside the jihad militants in Ambon last month. He called for a reappraisal of U.S. military aid to Indonesia and said U.S. sanctions could be imposed if the government or military is assisting in religious persecution.

The Jakarta government's response to the Maluku fighting has appeared inept, if not willfully negligent. Mr. Wahid announced a plan to evacuate Christians and seal off the islands after the June 19 attacks. But another shipload of 2,000-3,000 jihad troops arrived on June 24 (bringing the total to nearly 7,000). The Muslim fighters then burned churches, police buildings, and the Christian University in Ambon.

Mr. Wahid also vowed to protect Christians leading up to the July 31 ultimatum in Ambon. He sent army and marine forces to reinforce police brigades near government buildings and some Christian areas in Ambon. In Batu Gantung he stationed four tanks in front of a church. Three navy warships patrolled Ambon Bay. If quiet existed in Ambon, however, it was not because of the military presence; it was because most everyone had already fled.

Mindy Belz
Mindy Belz

Mindy travels to the far corners of the globe as the editor of WORLD and lives with her family in the mountains of western North Carolina. Follow Mindy on Twitter @mcbelz.

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