Indonesia/EastTimor: The Violence in Ambon

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On January 19, 1999, as Muslims around the world were celebrating the end of the fasting month,a fight broke out on the island of Ambon, in Maluku (Molucca) province, Indonesia, between a Christian public transport driver and a Muslim youth. Such fights were commonplace, but thisone escalated into a virtual war between Christians and Muslims that is continuing. Much of the central part o fthe city of Ambon, the capital of Maluku province, and many neighborhoods (kampung) in other parts of Ambon island and the neighboring islands of Ceram, Saparua,Manipa, Haruku, and Sanana have been burned to the ground. Some 30,000 people have beendisplaced by theconflict, although the figure is constantly shifting. The death toll by early March was well over 160 and rising rapidly as army reinforcements, brought in to restore order, beganfiring on rioters armed with sharp weapons and homemade bombs. Questions as to who wasaccountable for the violence in Ambon and surrounding islands focused on three issues: Whostarted it? Why did I tescalate so fast? What, if anything, could the government have done tohalt it? And what should the government be doing now?

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