APSN Banner

Military neutrality key to ending Malukus violence

Agence France Presse - June 27, 2000 (slightly abridged)

Jakarta – Government efforts to end sectarian violence in Indonesia's Maluku islands by imposing a state of emergency hang on the neutrality of soldiers there, analysts said Tuesday.

The government of President Abdurrahman Wahid declared a "state of civil emergency" in the provinces of Maluku and North Maluku on Monday, granting wide powers to the local government and military. But many doubted the effectiveness of the order.

"The key to whether this status will be able to bring peace here is the military," said the secretary of Ambon's Roman Catholic Cathedral, Benny Liando. "If the security personnel can remain neutral, then hopefully, peace will come."

He said there was a commitment to neutrality at the leadership level, but it was another story among soldiers on the ground. "If this neutrality is absent, I am afraid this state of emergency will only lead to more bloodshed," Liando said.

Malik Selang, the secretary of the Maluku chapter of the Indonesian Council of Muslim Scholars, also expressed pessimism over the neutrality of the security forces deployed in Maluku. "The military commander has called on all security personnel to return to their bases, but several have ignored the order and joined the other side," Selang said.

Political researcher Bambang Triono of Gajah Mada university said "the problem now is that security personnel are trapped and carried away by the conflict. "There are personnel who appear to be protecting Christians while others appear to be protecting Muslims," he said.

Triono told the Detikcom online news service the emergency status could not guarantee the neutrality of security personnel and what the region needed was a complete rotation of troops.

"Troops sent to the Malukus should be trained in peacekeeping missions, such as those who were sent to Cambodia or Africa," he added referring to Indonesian participation in UN peacekeeping missions.

The newly-appointed military commander of the Malukus, Colonel I Made Yassa, on Monday admitted that some soldiers may have been involved in the violence but pledged to bring them to justice.

Salim Said, an expert on the Indonesian military, said members of the security forces in the Malukus "are incapable of overcoming the situation" and a special task force should be deployed to separate the parties. To prevent contamination by either side, the task force should be allowed to work in the Malukus for only up to three months, he added.

Armed forces chief Admiral Widodo Adisucipto said 19 battalions of troops had been deployed in the Malukus and that two companies from the police mass-control unit left for Ambon on Sunday. An Indonesian battalion consists of around 600 men.

House Speaker Akbar Tanjung said Monday that imposing a state of emergency was the only choice left to restore law and order, but the neutrality of the security personnel there was the key to peace. "It is true that the security personnel there should not get involved in the conflict between the warring sides," Tanjung said.

Both the Muslim and Christian camps have accused soldiers and police of joining the other side in their attacks, or of providing weapons to the rival camps. Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina has said soldiers' pay was often months late and left soldiers dependent on food support from the local population.