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
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
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
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 naïve 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
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.