Richard Shaw on an appeal to help Indonesians to live in religious harmony
CHRISTIANS and Muslims from Indonesia have appealed for international assistance in achieving peace in the troubled country, during a awareness-raising tour of Europe.
Since fighting broke out in the Moluccas region of Indonesia in January 1999, over 8,0(10 people have been killed and more than half a million have had to leave their homes. Leaders of the Christian and Muslim communities visited the UN in Geneva, the EU in Brussels and the UK to provide information about the plight of the region and ask for help.
Revd Jacky Manuputty, a Protestant minister and one of the delegation leaders, described the purpose of the visit.
"We have come to provide information for the UN and the EU about the situation in the last year – the disaster of Moluccas,"he said.
"The country's ideology — the pancasila — which is confirmed by the constitution, includes religious tolerance. Our Government has denied us that basic right to equality. For a long time Muslims and Christians in Moluccas lived in harmony through the native culture. In the past people said: 'If you want to know about the harmony of religion go to Moluccas.' Muslims and Christians have been entrapped into killing each other. There are only two choices left to us, kill or be killed."
He continued: "Forced conversion and circumcision are now occurring on several islands. Thousands are trapped in the jungle in hiding, with their own villages under the control of the military and jihad warriors.
"This is not a religious conflict. There is a political dimension behind the conflict. The military use the majority Muslim assumption to gain support from the majority. In fact it is only small groups involved in Moluccas. The majority of Muslims and Christians in Moluccas want to work together for peace.
"Our journey, which is not the first, is aimed to encourage international attention to help us to take real action to press the Indonesian Government to solve the conflict in the Moluccas region.
"The Indonesian Government does nothing. They order investigating commissions but they are just a cover-up. We cannot sit back and watch the bloody conflict erupt. We hope the international community will send an independent investigation team to the region to produce a special report on human rights violations and on religious intolerance."
He spoke of the difficulties facing such intervention. "Unfortunately many. many countries feel they have to wait for an invitation from the Indonesian government. They have to keep their Indonesian investments.
"The British are one of the biggest investors in Indonesia. The British Government can do best in its own way. For example, there is a British run university which has trained Indonesian military officers for a long time. I hope this university will put an emphasis on detnocracy and equality in they training it gives to the officers," he said.
He said he was very pleased with the delegation. "The delegation has been a success; first because Muslims and Christians have come together on this trip and second because we are agreed about our standpoint," he said.
With the delegation were two children, Regina, a 20year-old Catholic, and Bertie, a 16-year-old Protestant.
Both had undergone forced conversion to Islam and forced circumcision without anaesthetics.
Bertie spoke of his experiences, saying: "My village was attacked by soldiers and jehad warriors. My family and I fled to the jungle."
After being promised that conversion would not be forced upon them, the refugees emerged, but nonetheless they were compelled to agree to become Muslims and were circumcised.
Bertie said: "It was so painful that I lost consciousness."
Eventually he managed to escape with his family. "They are still in the jungle, but he does not know what has happened to them,"he said.
Regina was evacuated from her island, which was overrun by jihad warriors, by the Government , after the Pope had put pressure on them to act.
"But the tragedy had already occurred before I left," she said. Her family house was burned down, and she finally also fled to the mountains, again being coaxed down by Muslim villagers only to be forcibly converted and circumcised.
Regina passed out during the circumcision, but prayed: "Lord even if I am circumcised physically, they cannot circumcise my spirit."
Now they are free, but their powerful testimonies reveal the desperate situation that many others, left in Moluccas, face.