May 18, 2004

South Moluccas: ICG reports on new violence in Indonesia's Ambon

The International Crisis Group (ICG) published a report on the violence erupted on 25 April in Ambon
Untitled Document Jakarta/Brussels, 17 May 2004: The Indonesian government should give urgent priority to identifying and prosecuting the snipers responsible for dozens of deaths recently in Ambon, the site of bitter communal violence between 1999 and 2001, lest new killings disturb fragile Muslim-Christian peace as national elections approach.

In a briefing published today, Indonesia: Violence Erupts Again in Ambon*, the International Crisis Group notes that many who live in the Moluccan island city believe the violence that erupted on 25 April, the anniversary of a short-lived Republic of the South Moluccas that tried to break away from Indonesia in 1950, was provoked. Two-thirds of some 40 people killed were Muslim, most shot to the head, neck, or chest. (Others died of machete wounds.) An additional 200, Muslims and Christians alike, were wounded, and close to 10,000 people were displaced.

The shootings took place after members of the pro-independence Front for Moluccan Sovereignty (known by its Indonesian initials FKM) held a ceremony at the house of their group's exiled founder, Alex Manuputty, on the morning of 25 April. FKM, a largely Christian organisation, sees itself as continuing the struggle for the Republic of the South Moluccas. Manuputty had been detained on rebellion charges, but late last year, was released on a technicality and fled to the United States.

"The failure of the local police to prepare adequately for the 25 April commemorations was clearly a factor in this outbreak", said Robert Templer, ICG's Asia Program Director, "but the key questions are who were the snipers, and why did they open fire?" Those questions need to be answered in a thorough, transparent, and impartial investigation, or the risk of another round of violence will be serious.

ICG discounts the government's quick presumption that the gunmen belonged to FKM or radical Muslim groups. The former have no sniper capacity, the latter would not have aimed at members of their own community. Much speculation has focused on members or ex-members of the security forces, who would have the necessary marksmanship. But no hard evidence at this stage supports any of the conspiracy theories that link the killings to the national presidential elections later this summer or local police-military rivalry.

The new ICG paper looks at how the violence began, the missteps made by officials in addressing it, and the different theories that have emerged to explain it. "The richness of the conspiracy theories is equalled by the paucity of hard facts", said Templer. "The longer the snipers remain unidentified, the greater the chance of a new round of violence in a sensitive place and at a sensitive time for Indonesia's democracy".

Read the full ICG report here in ms word format.

Source: ICG