Moluccas Peace Talks May Give New Hope to Christians

Catholic Bishop of Ambon Will Participate in Negotiations

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JAKARTA, Indonesia, FEB. 3, 2002 (ZENIT.orgFides).- For the Molucca Islands, peace may be at last in sight.

Christians and Muslims from Ambon, the capital of the Moluccas, will hold peace talks held Feb. 10-12 in Malino, on the island of Sulawesi.

Clashes between Christians and Muslims in the east Indonesian Moluccas broke out in January 1999 and have killed at least 15,000 and produced 500,000 refugees.

In December, Malino was the site of peace talks with religious and civil leaders who aimed to put an end to the conflicts in Palu, in northern Sulawesi, which had made 50,000 people homeless.

Indonesian government mediators, led by Solidarity Minister Jusuf Kalla, announced the official session of Molucca peace talks after separate meetings with about 30 representatives of the conflicting parties.

Kalla is moderately optimistic: “Preliminary talks brought good results. Both parties voiced sincere desire for solving the conflict and re-establishing peace in the Moluccas. They agree that the conflict is not religious; attention must be focused on social problems.”

Civic leaders present at the talks will include Moluccas governor Saleh Latuconsina and Sulawesi governor Palaguna.

Catholic Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi of Ambon, who also will take part in the talks, told the Vatican agency Fides: “Together with our Protestant colleagues we will go to Malino to talk peace with our Muslim counterparts. It is good that the participants have stressed the need to focus on how to solve social issues, like security enforcement and proper resettlement of refugees, rather than discussing hot issues like religious conflict.”

Bishop Mandagi says the mediation has a good chance of success “because the government seems to be seriously intentioned to put an end to the Moluccas conflict.”

The bishop led a Catholic-Protestant delegation of 15 members to Makassar for preliminary talks. The Protestant leaders include chairman of the Moluccas Synod of Churches Pastor Broery Hendrik. The Muslim delegation in Malino will be led by Abdullah Wahab Polpoke, president of the Provincial Ulema Council, and Thamrin Ely, leader of the Muslim National Mandate Party in Ambon.

Djoko Susilo a member of the Muslim National Party, said that participants at the talks should include those involved in active violence: Islamic Laskar Jihad and the Christian paramilitary group Maluku Sovereignty Front.

Hopeful observers note that the government says it will clamp down on fundamentalist Muslim groups that ruin the country´s image.

Recently the two main Muslim organizations in Indonesia — Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah, which together have about 80,000 followers — said they would work to make it a model Muslim country. Indonesia´s population of 210 million includes 150 million Muslims.

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