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November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

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JANUARY 21, 2000 VOL. 26 NO. 2

Cry for a Holy War
Jakarta feels the reverberations from Ambon

A local conflict rooted in long-simmering religious enmity. That is how Jakarta views the Muslim-Christian fighting in Ambon and other parts of the Maluku island chain. Scene of bitter sectarian strife over the past year, the Malukus have seen a fresh outbreak of violence in recent weeks. The problem "is that the [Maluku] population is almost equally divided between Christians and Muslims," says Brig.-Gen. Nono Sampurno, a special adviser to Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri (who is tasked with resolving the crisis). In the past tensions were held in check by repression, he says, but under the current open climate people view reform and democracy as an invitation to seek revenge for the "sins" committed against their ancestors by their religious opponents.

Estrada goes into damage-control mode with a new cabinet and agenda. Will it work?
• Law & Order
Mixed reviews for Manila's 'Dirty Harry'

Wahid is caught between the army and the Islamists
• Reporter's Notebook: Ambon
Reporting from the Ground Zero of sectarian violence

Why the old-style politicians refuse to fade away

The fallout from the Karmapa Lama's flight to India
• Bishops
Taking on the Vatican

Sampurno's analysis is sound as far as it goes. There is, however, more to the crisis than he lets on. For one thing, religious tensions are spreading nationwide in this predominantly Muslim country. Outraged by reports of their brethren being massacred, Muslim activists have been staging demonstrations in Jakarta to demand firm government action and call for a jihad (holy war) against Christians. The National Human Rights Commission, which is currently investigating last year's alleged atrocities in East Timor, has been accused of double standards - namely, that it is coddling East Timor's Catholics while ignoring the plight of Muslims elsewhere. "Look at the massacres in Ambon, Aceh and Halmahera; these people are less responsive," charges People's Consultative Assembly chairman Amien Rais, a former Muslim leader.

The Islam Defenders Forum, a hardline Muslim organization, recently shipped 400 volunteers to Ambon to put pressure on the Christian community there. The group has already demonstrated its clout by pushing the government to close nightspots across the country during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Wahid, however, has vowed to take action against those who try to wage a jihad in Ambon.

Muslim militants aren't Wahid's only concern. Relations between his government and the military have been strained lately because of the former's investigation of the latter's involvement in the East Timor rampage. Now a widespread suspicion is that some in the army are using the Maluku troubles to weaken Wahid - a view bolstered by the uncovering of military-issue weapons during police sweeps in Ambon.

A retired intelligence officer who once worked under former military boss L.B. Murdani agrees that army elements are involved in the Maluku crisis. While stopping short of saying the military is actively fomenting trouble, he asserts that some ranking officers are using the conflict to maneuver against Wahid. He also admits that the pro-Muslim protests in Jakarta have been engineered by elements in the army. He predicts that the demonstrations will reach their peak in two months and force the government to face a vote of no confidence in parliament. "I think that will be the end of Wahid's administration," he says.

Marzuki Darusman, attorney-general and chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, dismisses any chances of a military-engineered ouster of Wahid, saying that it will not be supported by the international community. "The idea is not backed by China, the U.S. or Russia," he says. Others cite a likely popular backlash against the military's return to power as a factor in favor of Wahid. Still, these are unsettling times. Darusman and his family have been regularly getting threatening phone calls from angry Islamists; this kind of intimidation is now so common that "it's just a joke for us," says Darusman. Unfortunately, in other respects the Ambon crisis is proving to be no laughing matter.

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