"The unthinkable has happened," said a well-placed Christian government official on hearing that the year-long conflict between Christians and Muslims in the Maluku Islands had spread to greater Indonesia on Monday, January 17. But he emphasized that the breakdown of the government's containment policy may benefit the troubled region."

There are only two million people in the Maluku Islands, and as long as the violence was limited to there, the government was not too worried," he said. "But now that it has spread to Lombok, and is impacting the tourist trade and the stock market, their hand will be forced to deal properly with the war."

Violence broke out between Christians and Muslims on the Maluku Islands in eastern Indonesia on January 19, 1999, and has left thousands dead and hundreds of churches and mosques destroyed. The conflict was mainly confined to southern Maluku, especially the city and island of Ambon, but it spread to northern Maluku at year's end. On January 17 riots erupted on Lombok, a resort island near Bali in central Indonesia.

As tourists were hastily evacuated from Mataram, the capital city of Lombok, Muslim mobs ran through the streets shrieking, "Burn, burn, burn all Christians." Five-star hotels resorted to writing "Muslim owned" on doors and walls to prevent the rioters from torching the premises. Reportedly, 3000 Christians fled the mayhem, leaving shops and churches to be burned and looted. The violence was perpetrated by extremist Muslim groups on the island, where Muslims form a majority of the population. Moderate Islamic leaders have been quick to condemn and apologize for the violence.

Of greater significance is that it represents the first time the Maluku violence has spread to greater Indonesia, where extremist Muslims have been campaigning for months to incite a general jihad (holy war)."

I think the government did not take seriously enough the rioting on Maluku, distracted as it was by East Timor and Aceh. And the Christians of Maluku do not have an international advocate like the Portuguese for the East Timorese, so the policy was to keep the war within Maluku, hoping the two sides would exhaust themselves eventually," said the government source in Jakarta."

But this stance is no longer possible, and the government is taking steps to be more pro-active."

Related Elsewhere

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