Asia-Pacific Network logo

Asia-Pacific Network: 19 July 2000


Thousands have died in the Moluccas in what seems to be a religious war betweden Christians and Muslims. Despite the state of 'civilian emergency' decreed by President Wahid, killings have still continued. This article dissects the forces that are behind the violence.


THOUSANDS of people have died in the Moluccas (Maluku), the popularly known Spice Islands north of Australia, in what seems to be a religious war between Christians and Muslims. Official estimates have put the death toll at 3,000. However, Rev. John Barr from the Uniting Church of Australia has put the death toll at around 10,000, which has been confirmed by my sources in Maluku and Australia. This includes the nearly 500 refugees whose boat capsized in the stormy waters between North Maluku and North Sulawesi, last month.

Despite the state of 'civilian emergency' decreed by President Wahid, killings have still continued. Therefore, it is important to dissect the forces that are behind the violence and explore ways for the Indonesian government and it's friendly neighbours to assist the remaining Moluccans from further extermination.

As has been the case in the post-referendum violence in East Timor,the inter -religious riots in Maluku which erupted in January 1999 was well-planned and prepared by officers and politicians loyal to Suharto with initially two goals. First, to destablise one of the strongholds of Megawati Sukarnoputri, who was then the strongest presidential candidate to replace Suharto's hand-picked successor, B.J. Habibie. Secondly, to create unrest in places where then armed forces commander General Wiranto wanted to revive army divisions (KODAM) abolished by his predecessor, General Benny Murdani.

Indeed, four months after the inter-religious violence began in Ambon, the old Pattimura Command was revived, covering the entire Maluku archipelago. Similar attempts to recreate the old Kodams by instigating troubles in Kupang, Pontianak, Banda Aceh and Padang have not been that successful.

While the violence in Ambon and the nearby islands continued, with more troops flown in from Java and South Sulawesi, the old Maluku province was divided into the pre-dominantly Muslim province of North Maluku with its capital in Ternate and the religiously balanced province of Maluku, with Ambon as its capital.

After initially using Ambonese gangsters as a smokescreen, paramilitary forces close to Suharto and troops loyal to Wiranto maintained the momentum of killings and destruction by continuously creating casualties on both sides that cried for revenge.

The religious leaders in Ambon repeatedly tried to make peace between the Muslim and Christian camps. Repeatedly, however, two officers in the Pattimura Army Command, Colonel Budiatmo and Colonel Nano Sutarno, made sure that peace could not be restored. Budiatmo, who is the Territorial Assistant of Pattimura, maintains links with the Christian militia in Maluku.

Meanwhile, Nano Sutarno, who serves as the Intelligence Assistant of the Pattimura Commander, maintains links with the Muslim militias, who are currently strengthened by the 10,000 Jihad fighters from Java, Sumatra and South Sulawesi. Ironically, his younger brother, Navy Colonel Nano Sampurno serves as an adjudant to Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri.

When Mayor General Max Tameala, the Christian Ambonese Pattimura commander was recently replaced by Colonel I Made Yasa, a Hindu-Balinese officer, those two officers were kept in their place by the powers that be in Jakarta. In fact, they probably know Maluku better than the new Pattimura commander, since they have already been stationed in Ambon before the Pattimura Command was revived, under Suaidy Marasabessy, a Muslim Ambonese officer close to Wiranto.

Currently, two other interest groups are involved in maintaining the violence in Maluku. The first group are radical Muslims who oppose Wahid's presidency and are financially backed by Dr Fuad Bawazier, a former Finance Minister under Suharto who is currently close to Wahid's main nemesis, parliament speaker Amien Rais. The second group consists of Indonesian business conglomerates which are close to the Suharto family whic benefit >from the troubles in Maluku to escape from their obligation to pay trillions of rupiahs debt to the Indonesian banks.

The first group had sent the Jihad fighters to Maluku. The bulk of these fighters are actually nave villagers who believe in the existence of an international Christian plot to dismantle the Indonesian Republic which in their eyes, which began with the liberation of East Timor. They are assisted by soldiers and deserters from the Indonesian military and police.

In fact, more circumstantial evidence of the involvement of the Indonesian Army's Special Forces, Kopassus, have reached the author's desk from sources in Indonesia and Australia. For instance, journalists in Ambon have observed several Kopassus officers, whom they had earlier recognised from their assignments in Jakarta and East Timor, among the Jihad warriors. These Kopassus officers disguised themselves with false beards. At the same time, other Kopassus officers were seen disguising themselves among the Christian militia, using 'Lasykar Maluku' (Maluku warriors) t-shirts.

Another source close to the Australian special forces told the author that most fatalities of the 'mysterious snipers' in Maluku died from gun shot wounds in their heads. This is an indeniable proof of Kopassus involvement since members of this special force are the snipers of the Indonesian armed forces (TNI) and head shots are their their specialty.

With officers loyal to Wiranto deeply entrenched in the armed forces, who want to avoid their patron from being tried for the human rights violations in East Timor, Wahid and his deputy, Megawati Sukarnoputri have their hands and feet tied to end the violence in Maluku.

This 'Wiranto faction' in the TNI headquarters in Cilangkap include officers who have been accused by the Indonesian Human Rights Commission (KOMNASHAM) for directing the post-referendum orgy of violence in East Timor, last year. One of them, Mayor General Adam Daniri, the former commander of the Udayana Army Command that oversaw East Timor, is currently the Operations Assistant of the TNI's General Chief of Staff, who also oversees the army operations in North Maluku.

Another one, Tono Suratman, the former commander of the TNI forces in East Timor, was promoted from Colonel to Brigadier General and currently serves as a TNI spokeperson. Speaking about the present situation in Maluku, he ironically repeated Jakarta's line during the carnage in East Timor by stating to the International Herald Tribune of 28 June, that "there are some rogue elements from within the security forces that are not acting professionally. They are taking sides and we are going to replace them."

In conclusion one can say that the ongoing violence in Maluku is basically maintained by opponents of the current regime who continue to play political football with the lives of the Moluccan people. Every time Suharto or Wiranto are interrogated, a new wave of violence flares up in Maluku.

Therefore, the ASEAN foreign ministers, convening this week in Bangkok, should convince Indonesia to replace all officers and troops which have been involved in initiating and maintaining the violence in Maluku and East Timor. Thailand, which does not have a predominant Muslim and Christian populations and was also involved in commanding the InterFET troops in East Timor, last year, may play an active role by sending a peacekeeping force, or at least a human rights monitoring team to Maluku.

  • Dr George J. Aditjondro, who teaches at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology at the University of Newcastle, specialises in the 'Indo-Melanesian' cultural zone of West Papua, Maluku, Timor and Flores. He has done extensive interviews with sources in Jakarta, Maluku, Germany and Australia, to uncover this background of the Maluku unrest.

  • Copyright 2000 George Aditjondro and Asia-Pacific Network. This document is for educational and research use. Please seek permission for publication.

    Return to Asia-Pacific Network index