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Indonesia - Appeal for decided action to stop inter-communal violence

01 March 1999

Letter to H.E. President Bacharuddin Jusuf Habibie, 1 March 1999.

Your Excellency,

The World Council of Churches has closely followed the developments in Indonesia since the May 1998 riots. The Council and its member churches have watched with growing concern the unfolding ethnic violence and communal conflicts that have left thousands of families in pain and despair. These events are all the more appalling because they are against the very spirit and proud traditions of the Indonesian people for religious pluralism.

Concerned by these developments, the Eighth WCC Assembly, held in Harare last December, decided to send an ecumenical delegation on a pastoral visit to Indonesia from the 26th of January to 4th of February. I take this opportunity to thank you and your other senior cabinet colleagues for taking the time to meet with the delegation on the 2nd of February. The meeting not only provided the delegation with the opportunity to express the concern of the churches around the world on the situation in Indonesia, but it also helped the delegation to understand and appreciate the difficulties encountered by your government as it endeavours to defuse the present climate of violence and conflict that has affected large parts of Indonesia. At the meeting Your Excellency deplored these acts of violence and condemned those responsible for the attacks on churches and mosques, as well as the fostering of religious hostilities. The delegation was assured that the government was doing everything in its power to bring the perpetrators responsible for these reprehensible acts to justice. The delegation returned hopeful with the assurance given by you.

It is now a month since that visit, yet the violence and communal conflicts continue unabated. New areas have been engulfed in a frenzy of fresh communal violence. Those responsible for the killings and arson have yet to be brought to justice.

We are distressed by these developments, more particularly with the situation in Ambon where the trouble began in mid-January last and continued while the delegation was in Indonesia. At that time the General Secretary of the Indonesian Council of Churches together with the leaders of other religious communities accompanied government officials to Ambon to help authorities in their efforts to restore peace and harmony in the region. This is a region where Muslims and Christians have long lived side by side in peace.

We have now received reports from our member churches that Ambon remains in the grip of communal frenzy, never witnessed before. There are daily reports of casualties and of attacks against Christian homes and places of worship, particularly in Batu Merah Dalam in the northern part of the city. It is a matter of deep concern for us that the special army units whose duty it is to protect the lives and properties of all Indonesians are accused of a partisan approach. This has spread insecurity and unrest amongst the members of the Christian community.

We urge Your Excellency to ensure that military personnel act as custodians of law and order and carry out their duties in accordance with the guiding principles of ‘Pancasila'. Also that immediate steps are taken to apprehend those responsible for violence, arson and killings and that they are brought before the courts of law to stand trial. Failure to do so will encourage the perpetrators to continue to indulge in these heinous crimes with impunity, thus further damaging Indonesia's image in the comity of nations.

We trust that, in accordance with the assurances given to the Ecumenical Delegation, Your Excellency will give this matter urgent and serious consideration.

                                                                                                                                                     Sincerely yours,

                                                                                                                                                     Konrad Raiser
                                                                                                                                                     General Secretary