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Outside Ambon, as reflected in the country's major news weeklies and statements of political opposition leaders, the near-universal belief is that the violence in Ambon is one of a number of outbreaks of unrest around the country deliberately instigated by people loyal to former President Soeharto, his family, a group of disgruntled army officers, or all of the above. The outbreaks in question include the shooting of four students and subsequent rioting in Jakarta in May 1998 that preceded Soeharto’s resignation; killings in Banyuwangi, East Java in the latter half of 1998; clashes in Semanggi, Jakarta on November 13 between students and members of a pro-government civilian militia set up by the army; communal violence in Ketapang, Jakarta on November 22; communal violence in Kupang, West Timor on November 30; and communal clashes in Sambas, West Kalimantan in January and February 1999. Unsuccessful efforts to spark unrest around the end of the Muslim fasting month were also reported in the cities of Manado, North Sulawesi, and Malang, East Java.

The aim of the alleged provocateurs is said to be to disrupt efforts to hold national elections now scheduled for June 7 and to force the government to declare a state of emergency so that the Indonesian military could return to power.6 In Ambon, proponents of this theory maintain, the instigating agents were a group of Jakarta-based Ambonese gangsters with ties to both the Soeharto family and army officers sidelined after Soeharto stepped down.

A second theory, widely held by Muslim leaders in Ambon, is that the violence was provoked locally by Christians resentful of their declining influence who turned to supporters of the Republic of the South Moluccas (RMS) movement for assistance. Their aim, according to this theory, was to restore Christians to their old position of dominance and lessen the population of Muslims by attacking Muslim migrants.7

A third, which is a combination of the first two, is that disgruntled army officers mobilized RMS activists to provoke violence, knowing that local Muslims would react as they did and believe that Christians were working with RMS to displace them.

Thus far, no “smoking gun” has been produced that would conclusively prove or disprove any of the above, but the allegations of provocation are so serious, and have been made by such senior Indonesian officials, including the commander of the armed forces, that they must be investigated far more seriously than they have been to date. As a Jakarta Post editorial noted:

They have no identity and are nameless. They are almost invisible, and, above all, untouchable. Yet, they are so powerful as to have left a trail of untold deaths and massive destruction across the country in the space of only a few months. If this was a year ago, they would probably have been called “communists.” Instead, the military and police, supposedly working within a new reform paradigm, have come with a new shorthand for them: provocateurs.

The police and military claim that they have drawn a blank in all these major cases. Sure, they have made a few arrests and some of those arrested were later convicted in court, but these were the small fry.

If the police had the political will, the least they could do was pursue some of the more plausible theories, even if only to disprove them. The way things are at the moment, one is left to wonder whether our law enforcement agencies are run by a bunch of incompetents that cannot solve even a single case, or they simply do not have the political will because they are dealing with truly powerful and untouchable bogeymen, as some of the conspiracy theories suggest.8

The Gangster Theory
From the moment the violence in Ambon erupted, there were rumors that the provocateurs had been some of the Ambonese underworld figures or preman involved in a major communal outbreak in Ketapang, Jakarta on November22.9 The Ketapang clash resulted in a wave of church burnings by a mob allegedly acting on rumors that hundreds of Christian Ambonese security guards for a major gambling casino in the area had destroyed a local mosque. (Indonesian human rights investigators found evidence that truckloads of youths, some of them paid, had been trucked in to take part in the violence, but it remains unclear who organized them or why.) Of the thirteen killed, several were Ambonese, as were most of the 180 arrested in the immediate aftermath of the violence.

To Human Rights Watch’s knowledge, no one has produced hard evidence that the Ambonese from Jakarta were directly involved in the conflict, although top army officers have implied that the evidence exists. The commander of an army unit from South Sulawesi, Maj. Gen. Suaidi Marasabessy, himself an Ambonese Muslim, said that Jakarta preman were responsible for the outbreak in Ambon. The claim was echoed by Maj. Gen. Amir Sembiring, commander of the region that includes Maluku, who said that he had a report from the Maluku commander that provocateurs operating in small groups had stirred up the people.10

It is true that hundreds of Ambonese who had worked in the Ketapang area returned to Ambon in December; we spoke with one man who was on the same boat as several hundred who left Jakarta on December 16. But there are plausible explanations for their return, including the fact that the casino was destroyed and local people warned that if any Ambonese returned to the neighborhood, they would be killed.11 Dozens had just been released from detention and may not have wanted to stay in Jakarta. The fact that hundreds returned to Ambon in the weeks before the outbreak does not in itself indicate provocation.

The preman may have carried their own feuds back home, however. Most of those who returned were loyal to one of two gang leaders, Ongen Sangaji, Jakarta coordinator of the Moluccan Muslim Student Movement, and Milton Tua Kota, a Christian. Ongen Sangaji's gang was mostly Muslim although it also contained some Christians. Milton's followers were overwhelmingly Christian. The two were bitter rivals, and Milton was married to Ongen's ex-wife. The two competed for influence with the Soeharto family. Ongen's ties were to Bambang Soeharto, the elder son of former President Soeharto, while Milton was said to be closer to the eldest daughter, Siti Hardiuanti Rukmana, better known as Tutut. Ongen was clearly the more successful of the two by the time the Ketapang violence erupted, but sources in Ambon said the rivalry between followers of the two men could well have helped fuel the Muslim-Christian violence.12

But the allegations of preman involvement went deeper than that. Abdurrachman Wahid, the opposition leader and leader of the moderate Muslim organization, the Nahdatul Ulama, caused a stir in early February when he suggested that the man personally responsible for the unrest was Yorrys Raweyai, leader of a group of thugs-for-hire known as Pancasila Youth or Pemuda Pancasila.13 Yorrys was known to be close to the Soeharto family, and Pemuda Pancasila had often been used as a tool for ensuring victory in Golkar campaigns. He was summoned for investigation by police but denied any involvement and said Pemuda Pancasila was extremely weak in Ambon.

Then Ongen Sangaji himself stepped forward. A member of Pemuda Pancasila, he was widely quoted as saying that 604 Ambonese preman had returned to Maluku and that their paymaster was Yoseano Waas, an Ambonese member of the national parliament.14 Waas's boys, according to Ongen, were working with Christians in Ambon to attack Muslims, and one of their leaders was Sadrakh Mastamu, head of C & C Amusement Center in Ketapang. Ongen told the tabloid newspaper, Tekad, that fifteen of Mastamu's men had died in Ketapang and that his brother had seen Mastamu attacking Muslims in Ambon. Waas denied the allegations and filed defamation charges against Tekad.
Christian sources, meanwhile, told Human Rights Watch that Ongen Sangaji was seen in Ambon in February and was responsible for putting up posters around the city calling for a holy way (jihad) against Christians there as well as in helping organize Muslim volunteers from other parts of Indonesia to join the war. These sources alleged that Ongen was working with a retired army officer in Ambon, Brig. Gen. Rustam Kastor, who was the Ambon link to a group of disgruntled officers under Maj. Gen. Kivlan Zein. The preman theory thus comes full circle back to the notion of a rogue army group linked to the former first family.

It is worth noting that of the more than one hundred people detained in connection with the conflict, none is a preman from Jakarta. As of March 10, one Christian and one Muslim had been accused of incitement, but there is no reason to believe that either operated at more than a very local level.

The Separatist Explanation
From the beginning, Muslim leaders have accused the RMS movement of being behind the violence and backing the Christians. On January 28, for example, Yusuf Rahimi, a leader of the Ambonese Muslim community in Jakarta, gave a press conference together with the head of a conservative Jakarta-based Muslim political organization, the Indonesian Committee for International Islamic Solidarity (Komite Indonesia Untuk Solidaritas Dunia Islam or KISDI). At the press conference, Rahimi said the two factors responsible for the violence were RMS and "a political group frustrated with the development of Islam in Ambon." He cited a number of sightings of the RMS flag in the first days of the unrest, statements made by the movement's leader in Holland, and shouts of support for RMS heard during the fighting.15

Christians leaders dismissed the possibility that RMS had played any significant role. A statement released on January 27, 1999 by Catholic and Protestant leaders noted:

The reaction of the Christian community to this incident [the outbreak of violence on January 19] was in no way motivated by certain political interests, that is, [it is not true] that the RMS was behind the violence in Ambon and surrounding areas as put forward by the head of KISDI in a 6:00 a.m. broadcast on SCTV on January 21, 1999. The way the RMS rumor was set off by the head of KISDI implies that RMS is identical to Christianity in Maluku, whereas in fact, RMS is not identical with Christianity, and the Christian community never has and never will give space to RMS to grow and develop. The RMS rumor is intended to create conflict between the military and the Christians in Maluku and to divert attention from the true causes of the violence that erupted in Batumerah and Silale (Waihaong) and has so rapidly spread to other places.16

One pastor told Human Rights Watch that the flag seen in one area of the city that Muslims were claiming was an RMS flag was in fact the banner of the Indonesian Democratic Party (Partai Demokrasi Indonesia or PDI) of popular opposition leader Megawati Soekarnoputri. On the other hand, several individuals linked to RMS in Holland were in Ambon when the trouble broke out, although what they were doing is not clear.

Since the Indonesian army crushed the RMS movement in 1950, it has been largely an exile political movement with no significant mass base in Ambon.17 Every April 25, on the anniversary of the declaration of the South Moluccan Republic in 1950, a few RMS flags are raised, particularly on the island of Saparua. The Soeharto government— which executed the leader of the short-lived republic in 1966—routinely arrested the flag-raisers, but RMS sympathizers were never seen as a serious threat, and since the late 1950s, the movement has lacked a guerrilla force comparable to that in East Timor, Irian Jaya, or even Aceh. Ironically, the ongoing violence has been a major boost for the movement, both in terms of international attention and possibly increased support in Ambon from some Christians who see both the civilian and military arms of the Indonesian government as hostile.

The Muslim accusation that the Christians in Ambon had RMS backing, however, was significant. It served to reinforce and heighten bitterness in Muslim villages in Ambon that had been destroyed by RMS forces in 1950. It gave a rationale to a call to arms for the Muslim side because it suggested the Christian side was organized, trained, and equipped by an outside force that in the past, at least, had had some military capacity; many RMS members in 1950 were Ambonese who had served in KNIL, the Dutch colonial army. And it conveyed a sense of Christians as being both Western-backed, given the Dutch base of the RMS, and disloyal, since the RMS had fought against Indonesian independence and sought to retain ties to the Dutch crown.

Anyone who had wanted to fan the flames of conflict in Ambon could easily have done so by using the RMS card.

6 In early March 1999, opposition leader Abdurrachman Wahid named a Prabowo associate, Maj. Gen. Kivlan Zein, a staff member of army staff headquarters in Jakarta, as being behind the violence in Ambon. According to Wahid, Zein, former chief of staff of the army's elite strategic reserve, KOSTRAD, and sidelined with other officers close to Prabowo since early January 1999, was head of an association called the Tidar Group (Kelompok Tidar). The group was composed of army officers, street thugs, and members of a martial arts organization headed by Prabowo called Satria Muda Indonesia or SMI. See "Awas, Aksi Kelompok ‘Eks Tidar’," Xpos (Jakarta), No.08/II/4-10 March 1999. 7 This theory was expressed to us by two leaders of the Muslim community in Ambon in February 1999. 8 “The untouchable bogeymen,” Jakarta Post, February 8, 1999.

9 The word “preman” is a corruption of the Dutch word meaning freeman, i.e. a civilian, and soldiers out of uniform are still referred to as wearing “preman” clothes. But the word in recent years has come to refer to members of urban street gangs, often involved in crime.

10 “Preman Jakarta Dituding, Korban Tewas di Ambon Menjadi 39 Orang,” Media Indonesia (Jakarta), January 23, 1999.

11 “Bak Raju Telanjang Berbaju Emas,” Gatra, Vol. V, No.3, December 5, 1998 (electronic version, no pagination).

12 Milton himself did not return to Ambon, according to our information, and was not detained there in January as some reports out of Jakarta alleged at the time.

13 See "Dituduh Menghasut: Yorrys Buka Kartu," Gatra, (cover story), Vol.V, No.12, February 6, 1999, and "Yorries Raweyai: Saya Preman, Bukan Politisi," D & R, (a Jakarta newsweekly) January 30, 1999.

14 Forum Keadilan Th.VII,No.22, February 8, 1999.

15 "Ambon Menangise," Gatra, Vol. V, No.2, January 1999.

16 "Pernyataan Sikap Umat Kristiani di Maluku Sehubungan dengan Peristiwa 19-24 January 1999," January 27, 1999, signed by Rev. M.M. Siahaya, Jurjen Soenpiet, Mgr. P.C. Mandagi, and Rev. S.P. Titaley.

17 There are over 40,000 Moluccan expatriates in the Netherlands, many of them related to a core of some 12,000 Ambonese who fled after the defeat of RMS forces in 1950. They are organized into several competing political groups, most of which support an independent South Moluccan republic but not necessarily under the leadership of the current RMS president, Dr. Frans Tutuhatunewa. RMS itself is a member of the Unrepresented Nations and People's Organization, UNPO.

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