Almost two years of relative peace in south Maluku's
capital was broken when a hard-line group of Christian separatists,
known as RMS, raised their independence flag and marked the
anniversary of their movement with a parade through the town on 25
The parade and the failure of police to arrest
leaders of the RMS for raising their flag, a highly provocative act
in Indonesia, sparked Christian-Muslim clashes. Twenty-four hours
later, 20 people lay dead.
But a day after the violence, groups of professional
snipers began taking pot shots at police as well as Christians and
Muslims, which threatened to turn the contained clashes into
full-scale fighting reminiscent of the one that raged for three
Between 1999 and 2002, at least 5000 people were
killed and half a million others displaced in the sectarian war that
pitched Christian militias against Muslim rivals.
However, a government-sponsored peace pact brought a
halt to much of the fighting and the militias were
But since the RMS celebrated its anniversary,
snipers have turned Ambon's streets into death traps.
They are responsible for
almost half of the 38 deaths, as well as many more injuries, says
Ichsan Malik from an Ambon non-governmental group, the Peace
The United Nation mission
ablaze in Ambon in April
At least 10 of these snipers are members of the
local military command, says Rum Suneth, a former civil servant and
researcher at the Peace Building Institute. Suneth says he saw
military men he recognises being shot by the security forces during
one anti-sniper operation last week.
However, he suspects they were taken to a military
hospital for treatment and has not been able to interview them.
Meanwhile, a Western analyst, and expert on the
conflict, says police sources have revealed the arrest of at least
one police and one military sniper last week.
Nasir Rahawarin, the secretary for the Muslim
Clerics Council of Indonesia (MUI) in Ambon, says police informers
have told him that a group of former police and military officers
carrying out sniper attacks had been arrested.
Unlike previous violence when snipers were aligned
with a religious militia, these snipers have been ordered to shoot
both Muslims and Christians says Rahawarin, repeating information
from a police source.
indicate that the violence is the result of long pent up tensions,
"If all the snipers are
arrested, then the normal community will not be involved in
the conflict any more"
Muslim Clerics Council of Indonesia
"I'm sure it's orchestrated. We just don't know
whether it is from Jakarta or Ambon," says the analyst.
The snipers appear to be deployed primarily to
prolong and escalate the violence says Rahawarin.
"If all the snipers are arrested, then the normal
community will not be involved in the conflict any more."
Police and military spokesmen deny the claims that
security forces could be behind the attacks.
Police say they have shot several snipers but those
were never arrested because they were rescued by their companions.
Military commander General Endriartono Sutarto said
any troops who were found to be participating in the conflict would
be tried, adding that the police had no political agenda in Maluku.
And as the Indonesian media reported that the
snipers appeared to be using military-issue weapons, military
spokesman Sjafrie Samsoedin said the snipers’ guns might have been
stolen from a police armoury in 2000.
The police and military commanders have blamed much
of this violence on the RMS, arguing it is primarily a conflict
between Muslim nationalists and Christian separatists.
The wife and daughter of the separatist leader, Alex
Manuputty, who fled to the US, have been arrested and will be
charged with treason.
former police chief, Brigadier General Bambang Sutrisno, has been
replaced for failing to control the separatists.
Many Indonesians say they
like a former general as
However, some analysts say blaming the continuing
violence only on the separatist force, or RMS, is
"The RMS are only 200 to 300 people. They are not
all over Ambon. This is a very extreme group of Christians who are
not supported by other Christians," says Pastor Cornelis Bohm, from
the Amboina Crisis Centre.
There are several possible reasons as to why the
violence may be orchestrated by members of the security forces say
Rahawarin says they may be have been paid by local
thugs running security as well as smuggling and construction rackets
during the previous conflict and who are now looking to regain their
Alternatively, there are accusations that the
conflict may have been ignited or inflamed so that the military can
regain control over security in Maluku, which has been under police
command since a civil emergency was lifted last September.
Police and military have been fighting for control
of Indonesia's provinces, and ever since the police's successful
investigation into the Bali bombings, police forces have become
far more powerful.
Controlling security in conflict zones such as
Ambon, or Aceh, is lucrative for the military, which often receives
kickbacks and can control vital industries such as logging or
Preparations for the July presidential elections may
be another reason.
Ex-military figures may be trying to make the
civilian government appear incapable of dealing with the country's
sectarian and separatist conflicts.
But regardless of the actual motivations, the
unrest could impact the campaign of one of the prime candidates
in the presidential race - Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono or SBY, and his
vice-presidential choice - Yusuf Kalla - who was the architect
of Maluku's peace deal point out analysts.
will benefit from this? It’s clear that those in competition with
SBY will benefit because Maluku is a big success story for SBY and
Kalla," says political analyst Daniel Sparringa from the
Airlangga in East Java.
The two main
candidates to benefit politically from falling support for Yudhoyono
would be either retired general Wiranto or President Megawati
Sukarnoputri, says Sparringa.
a former armed forces commander and defence chief, is the
presidential candidate for the powerful Golkar party.
Yudhoyono, also a
retired general and a recently retired security minister, is quite
popular but if he starts to look weak and ineffective, many voters
in search of a strong leader with a military background could turn
to Wiranto in the July elections, say analysts.
advisors dismiss any accusations against their candidate.
fitnah [slander]," says Tito Sulistio, Wiranto's campaign
senior editor who refuses to be named, points out that such
accusations could be part of a campaign by Wiranto's political
opponents to discredit him.
says non-government groups have been paid to demonstrate about past
human rights abuses such as the shooting of student demonstrators by
security forces that occurred during Wiranto's rule as armed