Maluku Islands again a violent center of Christian-Muslim wars
Less than a month ago, journalists were reporting peace in Indonesia's Maluku Islands. "A peace deal signed in 2002 appears to be holding and on the region's main island Ambon, the first tentative steps towards reconciliation are now being taken," reported the BBC's Rachel Harvey.

About a year ago, Christianity Today's Jeff M. Sellers reported the tragic reason for the "peace"—after more than 5,000 people were killed in two years of religious warfare, Muslim extremists had completed their mission. "They're done with religious cleansing there," Freedom House's Paul Marshall said. "There are refugees who have fled, and there are refugees who have been driven out of their villages but are starting to move back."

Last weekend, the religious violence moved back, too. Trouble reportedly began at a parade of some local separatists.

"Police arrested people trying to raise the banned flag of a little known and mostly Christian rebel group, the South Maluku Republic Movement, on the anniversary of a failed independence bid 54 years ago," Reuters said.

Violence broke out with six people killed and dozens more injured. Retaliation escalated, and by Tuesday afternoon the official death toll was 31, with 145 injured.

"In a particularly telling incident one man, likely a Christian according to local people, was stabbed to death at the Yos Sudarso port in Ambon, as he was trying to escape from a Muslim area," The Jakarta Post reports.

The paper says that clashes "finally began to tail off" yesterday: "Ambon was a ghost town as night fell, as the hundreds of police paramilitary reinforcements were deployed to the troubled city to prevent the conflict from escalating."

United Nations employee Olin Tutamahu told the AFP news agency, "We seem to have gone instantly back to the same conditions as at the beginning of the conflict in 1999. The Christians remain in their sector and the Muslims remain in theirs."

"It's still tense in some spots, but less so than yesterday," police spokesman Endro Prasetyo told Reuters. "We can hear gunfire but it's not often."

Still, the paramilitaries' presence does not mean peace has returned to the area. Australian media are reporting that hardline Muslim leaders in Jakarta have promised to send "7,000 Islamic warriors" to move the clash into the next phase.

"The clash in Ambon that erupted last Sunday has the potential to be used by certain groups to provoke the people of Ambon into becoming involved in a prolonged conflict like that in 1999," Natan Setiabudi, chairman of the Indonesian Communion of Churches, told The Jakarta Post. He also said that Christians in Ambon don't support the South Maluku Republic Movement. Unfortunately, the Muslim extremists who torched local Christians homes and schools (including the Indonesian Christian university) don't seem to care.

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