A prominent churchwoman from Indonesia's troubled Maluku islands has declared that brutal attacks on Christians by "Jihad groups sent from outside" are wiping out the Christian community in central east Indonesia."We are still confused, including ordinary Muslims, and ask why this is happening," said the woman, who was interviewed by ENI during a meeting of the executive committee of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, in Bangalore, India. "Please don't use my name," she pleaded with ENI, explaining that the Jihad (fundamentalist Muslim) fighters in the Malukus were preparing lists of prominent Christians for "elimination". Thousands of Muslim fundamentalists trained and armed with automatic guns, had, she said, come from other parts in Indonesia, arriving by sea in the Malukus, once known as Spice Islands. The fundamentalists were driving out Christians, who account for about half of the two million citizens in the islands, one of the strongest Christian areas in Indonesia.The violence has raised concerns in the international community and particularly in ecumenical circles in recent months.The woman told ENI that the Jihad warriors, shouting Islamic slogans, "attack and burn down Christian houses, shops and even entire villages, killing whoever comes in their way"."We had harmonious life between Christians and Muslims till January last year when the trouble started," said the woman from Ambon - the islands' biggest city. The relationship between Christians and Muslims in Malukus, she said, had been based on traditional Pela Gandong culture. (Pela means "swear" and Gandong "from the womb" in local dialect. With this oath, leaders of both communities publicly vowed every year to protect members of the other community as their "own brothers and sisters, since we are from the same womb".)The woman explained that every Christmas Muslims would visit the houses of Christians, who would reciprocate for Islamic holy days. "Now that is a thing of the past," she added. "Now we are scared of even passing through Muslim areas. They [the fundamentalists] will ask questions that only Muslims can answer. Once it is clear that one is not a Muslim, it is difficult to get away."Using a map, the woman pointed out to ENI several coastal villages in the islands that had been "cleansed" of Christians forced to flee to the mountains. In 18 months of sectarian violence more than 1,000 Christians had been killed and more than 200,000 forced to leave their homes. The violence had resulted in the segregation of the two communities. Christian families in Muslim areas have "fled to Christian majority areas, leaving everything behind", and Muslim families in Christian areas have moved to Muslim areas.In some places, young Christians "retaliated", setting fire to Muslim houses and mosques, the woman explained. Though churches urged people "not to retaliate, Christians, especially youth, turn emotional and react" in the face of attacks by Jihad groups. "When someone attacks your house and other property, it is difficult to remain calm."Despite such "emotional outbursts", most people in the islands wanted peace. Most Christians and Muslims were not "antagonistic" to one other, she said. Recently, when many Christians had been forced to flee their village, they were given shelter by Muslims in the town of Wahai.Similarly, she said, she had seen Muslims and Christians mingling freely and talking together, even though they were housed in separate refugee camps. But she added that jihad groups were using money to co-opt local Muslims. As a result, some local Muslims were taking part in the "lightning attacks" on Christian targets.Describing some of the most brutal attacks, she said that a pregnant Christian woman's womb had been slashed open, and her baby cut into pieces.The "outsiders", she said, did not want local Muslims to be friendly to Christians. Some Muslim women had joined Christian women to call for peace. However, the militants threatened to burn down the women's houses if they spoke to Christians.The Indonesian government's response to the violence has been "very poor", she said. "Even if we ring up government officials and the army, by the time army arrives, everything is over," she said. As the jihad groups move around in large numbers with better weapons, the army "would not even dare to challenge them, and lets them move in" to Christian areas, despite orders to prevent this. Furthermore, ordinary soldiers did not obey their commanders. There have been many instances of Muslim soldiers siding with the Jihad groups, instead of protecting Christians.More than 200 churches and church properties, including the Christian university at Pattimura in Ambon, have been looted and destroyed, the woman told ENI. Even police stations, government offices and public hospitals have not been spared by the militants.Ordinary people live "in perpetual fear" of attack. Even as they visit the local market or prepare a meal at home, they are on the lookout for "screams of distress to run away". The Christian woman said that most families, including her own, have packed their most precious belongings in a bundle in case they had to "run for their lives".Initially the fundamentalists had been armed with daggers and swords, but now they carry automatic machine guns, she added. Few Christians would dare take the 36-kilometre road from Ambon city to the local airport, as the road passed through Muslim areas. Life for most people in the region is "chaotic", because of the virtual collapse of agriculture, education and the health-care system. The children of displaced families do not attend school, nor do other children whose schools are in "unfriendly areas"."How the refugees [in the mountains] survive is a miracle," said the Ambonese woman who said that international aid agencies were providing basic provisions.Asked about a solution, the woman said: "If the ships [carrying Jihad fighters] don't come, we are safe." But it was impossible, she said, to guard the entire coastline of the islands to prevent their arrival.The Indonesian government and army were "incapable of restoring peace", she said. Even if the government gave the orders, officials down the ladder will side with the fundamentalists."We need neutral and impartial international monitoring and comprehensive humanitarian aid. The more it is delayed, the more Christian pockets in the Malukus will be wiped out," she warned.
Copyright © 2000 ENI Previous Christianity Today coverage of religious tensions in Indonesia includes:Churches Pressure for Swift Action to Calm Maluku Violence | Indonesian army joining in attacks on Christians. (July 21, 2000) Indonesian Religious Riot Death Toll Dwarfs 30 New Corpses | Death count has passed 1,700. (Mar.3, 2000) Maluku Islands Unrest Spreads to Greater Indonesia | Violence on Lombok Island may hasten government intervention. (Jan. 25, 2000) Ministries Intensify As East Timorese Refugee Camps Grow | Evangelicals working furiously to meet physical and spiritual needs. (Sept. 6, 1999) Dozens Die in New Clashes | 95 killed in religious riots in Maluku province. (Mar. 1, 1999) Christians Killed, Churches Burned | Muslim mobs vent their rage against Indonesian Christians. (Jan. 11, 1999) Muslim Mobs Destroy Churches | 10 Protestant churches severely damaged in riots. (Sept. 16, 1996)On Monday, the Associated Press released two new stories about failed attempts to reshuffle Indonesian leadership and bolster public morale. Read about the rally the Vice President ditched or the restructuring of the Indonesian Army command.For a list of The Washington Post's stories about the recent indictment of former president Suharto, and the ways government corruption is effecting Indonesia's senate elections, click here.
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