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'Third party' behind bloody Kupang riots

Jakarta Post - December 21, 1998

Jakarta – Rights campaigner Benjamin Mangkoedilaga said on Saturday that an investigation into recent unrest in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, revealed that it was not a spontaneous eruption of outrage over earlier unrest in Jakarta.

Instead, it was determined that a "third party" masterminded the attacks against mosques and properties of the Muslim community in the predominately Catholic region, Benjamin said in Bandung.

The new member of the National Commission on Human Rights was quoted by Antara as saying that witnesses reported the presence of strangers in their neighborhoods just before the rioting broke out. "The strangers wandered around in the sites of the rioting," said Benjamin, while "most Kupang residents claimed they did not know how the unrest began. They learned about the rioting after it spread.

"There's no indication that the unrest was in retaliation for the tragedy. in Ketapang" he said. Ketapang, West Jakarta, was the scene of unrest in which 14 people were killed late last month when residents attacked churches. "What we have, instead, are indications that the (Kupang) unrest was plotted so that it looked like an interreligion conflict," he said.

Benjamin described how the people he spoke to did not bear any grudge toward people of other faiths or ethnic groups. He also said that Muslims who lost their homes were given shelter by Catholic missionaries, while the damaged mosques were repaired with the help of the Catholic community.

President B.J. Habibie met with some officials and community leaders from East Nusa Tenggara on Friday in Jakarta where they agreed that the rioting was triggered by attempts to use religion to pit one group against another.

"The torching of places of worship in Kupang was not caused by religion, race or ethnic-related issues but by attempts to use religion to pit one group. against the other and to commit an act of deception," East Nusa Tenggara Governor Piet Tallo said after the meeting with Habibie.

The Kupang riots on Nov. 30 followed a procession initiated by four Christian youth organizations to memorialize the Nov. 22 riots in Ketapang in which numerous buildings were also damaged. At least 11 places of worship were set ablaze and more than a dozen houses, a haj dormitory, government offices and school buildings were extensively vandalized in the Kupang riots, causing material losses of nearly Rp 30 billion. Police claim they have strong evidence linking eight people to the Kupang riots.