Friday, May 14, 2010

The Tragedy of Ambon: what did really happen? - I

The Tragedy of Ambon: what did really happen? - I

Jakarta, April 2nd 1999.

Br. Peter C. Aman ofm
JPIC Coordinator of the Franciscan Province Indonesia.
Franciscan Province of Indonesia
Jln. Kramat V/10 – Jakarta 10430
Tel. (021) 3909941
Fax. (021) 3101940
E-Mail :

Over these several weeks we have not read the news about the tragedy in Ambon anymore, at least the Indonesian newspapers and magazines do not rapport about the case. Does it mean that the case is over or finished? Is the peace has been obtained by the groups or ethnics which involved in that bloody conflict? It seems to be so. The military intervention has ceased the conflict, many people from Ujung Pandang, Bugis and Buton have left Ambon. The social and economic life has been arising again although it has not yet 100% restored. We hope that the peace will last forever, but the anger, revenge and fear have not yet cancelled out form their hearts. The conflict caused many people died; many buildings and houses burnt down; many people have lost their homes and jobs. Ambon has become a ruin. How we can understand the conflict and its background?

The sin of "Orde Baru" regime under Soeharto
Soeharto reigned Indonesia 32 years and was toppled down 21st May 1998. He built up a strong regime named "orde baru" (New Order/Nuovo Ordine). Hitler and Mussolini used the same name for their regime. Soeharto governed Indonesia as a dictator and was backed up by the military. He created his own legitimation named "pembangunan" (development) and in the name of "pembangunan" he jailed the critical oppositions, censored the press and killed the people who took arms against his regime. Actually Indonesia had three political parties but Soeharto castrated (made them powerless). Golkar, the governing party was only a political machine to defend his power, therefore he was elected seven times as President without difficulties. The power of the state was centered under his control. His family dominated the economy in cooperation with some rich Chinese. Jawa has been very developed island, while the other islands have been exploited.

To build up Indonesia as an integralistic and united stated, he launched the program of transmigration. The people from some populated islands such as Jawa and Bali, moved to other islands to live with the indigenous people there such as Kalimantan, Jaya, Sumatera ans Sulawesi. The program neglected the rights and the culture of the indigenous people in those islands. For the indigenous people the transmigrants are those who come to occupy and take over their lands. They could not protest the program because they could be accused PKI (the member of Indonesian Communist Party) which could be killed or jailed anytime; they could be accused as GPK (Gerakan Pengacau Kemananan = bandits movements against security) which also could be arrested by military. To support the development of economy Soeharto build up market-places throughout Indonesia, named Pasar Inpres. These market-places came along with the people of other island to manage and run the market-places, while the inland people got not too much economic advantages. The market places in Flores, Timor, Maluku and Irian Jaya are dominated by the people from Jawa, Padang (Sumatera, Ujung Pandang (Sulawesi). The economic progress has widened the gap between the strangers (outsiders) and the native people. The industries which are built up in Java has caused the exploitation of the natural resources of other islands. Java is getting richer while the other islands which supply the natural resources for the industries remain poor. Sumatera, Irian and Kalimantan, Sulawesi and some islands in Maluku islands are very exploited. The indigenous people there lose their natural reaousrces (woods, oil, cooper, gold, etc.) while they remain poor. During the regime of Soeharto they cannot express their dissatisfaction, because the regime was very oppressive and spread terror everywhere.

Indonesia is also a multy-religious country. Under the Orde Baru regime there were only five religions acknowledged to present in Indonesia. Those religions are : Islam, Catholic, Protestant, Hindu and Budha. The government kept control over religions and made several laws and constitutions to order the relationship between religions. The inter-religions conflicts have been prevented by those rules and those who used religion for their political goals could be marked fundamentalist and could be confronted by government or military strictly. The prophetical role of the religions in front of injustice, corruption, violence, oppressions, etc was easily marked up as subversive, illegal, disturbing the harmony between religions. The fear and threat were spread among the people. The people were not used to face the religious differences and to discuss the problems. In the meantime the suspicion grew up.

In the years of 1990s, the government (the regime) seemed to lose its domination and power. Soeharto turn to get sympathy from the Muslims. Soeharto and his family visited Mekkah as pilgrims. Then he got a new name, Islamic name Haji Muhammad Soeharto. It was a "spring time" for the relationship between government and the Muslims in Indonesia. In 1990 ICMI (Ikatan Cendekiawan Muslim Indonesia = Indonesian Muslims Intellectual Association) was founded. In a very short time ICMI spread all over Indonesia. Many Muslim got job in bureucracy and important position in military. If in the first decade of his regime Soeharto CSIS (Center of Study for International Strategy) as his think tank, in which many Christians involved. Since 1990s Soeharto has allied with the ICMI and got political supports from them. ICMI has become an influential group on government moreover led by Habibie who is now the President of Indonesia.

In some cases ICMI has rise up the racial problems. ICMI tried to put their members on some important positions in government. Soehartoe’s Cabinet in 1992-1997 is dominated by that group. That policy has excluded those who are not members of ICMI and Christians from the governmental bureucracy. It is important to note the case of Ambon some years ago. The group of ICMI tried to place its member as a Rector of University of Pattimura. The appointment was refused by the majority of the professors there. It has been like "a rule" that the governmental bureucracies are dominated by the Muslims, while the university by the Christians. Therefore the Christians refuted the appointment of the Muslim Rector. Actually, the Muslims and the Christians have lived peacefully for centuries in Ambon or Maluku Islands. Therefore it is not 100% right that the recent conflict is rooted in religious problem. On the contrary, religion has been manipulated to hide the real problem that is the social economic gap and the failure of social assimilation between the native Ambonese and those who came from outsider: the people from Ujung Pandang (Makasar), Bugis and Makasar. Coincidentally, those people are Muslims.

Maybe this description is not so complete and far from being perfect. Anyhow it is the outline of the background of the problem in Indonesia. The fall of Soehartoe’s regime has been a chance for the people to get back their freedom which was shackled during 32 years. Indonesian people have enjoyed an "euphoria" in which they can express whatever they want to express: their frustration, dissatisfaction, the problem which were pressed to the unconscious world before, now are coming up to the surfaces. The racial problems which were marked up as a Taboo during the regime of Soeharto has raised up and threaten the unity and could be the cause of the disintegration of the nation. The conflict in Ambon can happen everywhere or in every part of Indonesia.

The "casus belli" of the conflict in Ambon.
The bloody conflict in Ambon began in January 19th 1999. It was triggered by the so called case: Batu Merah Incident. It was a personal conflict between Yopie (Ambonese) and Usman (Makasar). We have two versions of the case. According to the first version (MUI Facts finding Team and Partai Keadilan): Yopie asked money forcefully from Usman, a taxi driver. Usman refused to give him money and it caused Yopie to be angry with Usman and hit him. Usman fled to Kampung Batu Merah. Then the people from Kampung Batu Merah and Kampung Aboru got into conflict, attacted each other.The second version (PGI – Indonesian Christian Churches Union): the conflict was initiated by the personal conflict between Usman and Yopie. Usman a hold-up man asked money from Yopie and Yopie refused it. Yopie is a city bus driver.

Although these two version are different or contradictory to one another, one thing is right, that there was a personal conflict. The next question is : who blew up this personal conflict, so it has become a social, racial and even a religious conflict, which caused too much victims? There are some analysis to answer the question. Some said that there were some provocateurs came from Jakarta to Ambon. Those provocateurs involved in the Ketapang conflict Jakarta in November last year. They went home to Ambon and succeeded to blow up the conflict in Ambon. Some said that there are some persons in Jakarta who paid the provocaterus to make riots everywhere in Indonesia. A conflict in Ambon is one of that scenario. So it said that the conflict in Ambon was "a business" of some important persons in Jakarta. Some name have been mentioned, such as Soeharto, the Indonesian ex-president, who still has many followers and has caused many racial conflicts in Indonesia, since his resignation last year.

It is difficult to justify the analysis but we can conclude that the social situation in Indonesia has become like a "dry grasses" which could be burnt any time. The racial or religious conflicts are only the external expressions of the internal social and political problems that caused the great crisis in Indonesia. The crisis has been too extended and deepened so it is difficult to resolve it. The economic crisis ha caused a great number of unemployed people. This social condition could be "soft cushion" for conflicts which use religion and racial as their tools at hands.

Black diary of the tragedy in Ambon
The tragedy in Ambon lasted for three months. The conflicts has revealed the sensitive issues in the social and political life of the people in Indonesia. Racial, religion, position in government could be a trigger for the great conflicts. I would like to present the chronology of the tragedy in Ambon:

* January 19th, 1999: the personal conflict between Usman and Yopie that triggered between the people of two Kampung: kampung Aboru (Ambonese) and Batu Merah (Makasar). Two hours later the conflict became a great riot between Christians and Muslims in Ambon.
* January 20th, 1999 : the conflicts spread to some villages: Hunut, Durian, Patah, Waiheru, Beneteng Karang, Hila.
* January 20-26th 1999: The Airport of Pattimura was closed for commercial flights.
* January 21st 1999: the mass riot occurred in Saumlaki, Seram barat, Xanana to react the riot in Ambon.
* January 22th 1999: the Muslims in Ambon prayed in the Mosques and the Christians protected them so they can prayed peacefully.
* January 23rd 1999: at 11.00 local time, the police which were evacuating the Muslims were waylaid by the Christians. The police fled and five Muslims dead in the conflicts. An unknown person kidnapped one soldier. The soldier died.
* January 28th 1999: the conflicts took place in Haruku Island especially in some villages: Kariu, Pelau. Ori. 17 persons died. From Haruku the conflict moved to Saparua Island.
* January 30th 1999: The security force found the arms and bullets in some people’s houses in Kaitetu, middle maluku.
* February 23rd 1999: Bomb exploded in Ambon two times at 11.30 AM local time and 12.30 PM. 30 houses were burnt in Batumerah.
* February 25th 1999: the victims shot in the Church reported to the Commander of the Military Police of Military Resort 174 Pattimura.
* February 28th-1st March 1999: Peace agreement among the local leaders, religious leaders, cultural leaders and local governments from Ambon island, Haruku island, Saparua island took place in the Office of Military Resort 174 Pattimura. Soon after the agreement there occurred a killing of five persons of one family. One child escaped because he fled to the forest. At 03.30 AM, 200 people from the village of Kolan Ahuru attacked the village of Rinjani. Two persons dead and tree persons injured. When the Muslims praying for Sholat Subuh in the Mosque of Muhajirin, some police members shot the people there. Three people died. The Police refuse that they shot the people inside the Mosque.
* March 3rd 1999: before the Cabinet meeting in Jakarta, Indonesian Commanderin Chief of the Armed Forced, Gen. Wiranto ordered The Chief of Indonesian Police Gen. Pol. Roesmanhadi di replace the Chief of the Regional Police of Ambon Kol. Karyono. Indonesian Army Force decide to send the troops to Ambon from Situbondo and Purworejo. The troops from Ujungpandang were withdrawn from Ambon.
* March 5th 1999: 8 military officers shot the people. One died and 17 injured.
* March 6th 1999: around 16.00 PM local time two people from Bugis died. Their cars and corpses were burnt. Three hours later, four bombs exploded in Ambon,. Behind the Silo Church and in Batugajah. Atm 02.30 AM the the security officers shot to dead Danny Letty: George Ririhatuela and Markus Silubun were injured seriously; 15 people injured
* March 7th 1999: The security team formed and sent by General Wiranto began working. There was a riot in Airsalobar Atas: 3 died, many injured. There were 30 times explosions.
* March 8th 1999: Hendropriyono the Minister of Transmigration and Resettlement of the Forest Cutters accused RMS as a hidden actors of the riot in Ambon. The meeting between Amrmed Force and Reconciliation Team took place in Ambon. The National Human Rights Commission launched the statements: (1) the riot in Ambon is not a religious conflict; (2) do not make statement without real data; (3) to undertake a legal process for those who caused or provoke the riot.
* March 9th 1999: the conflict went on, many houses were burnt down, 10 died, 30 injured.
* March 10th 1999: the authority for resolving the conflict moved from Police Officers to Military. The military will solve the conflict in three months since March 11srt 1999.
* March 11-15th 1999: The tension and conflict were cooling down.
* March 16th 1999 : the people involved in the conflict delivered their arms.
* March 17th 1999 : the social and economic activities started to begin, even though the situation was not thoroughly restored.


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