- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 26, 2000

JAKARTA, Indonesia.

You had to look closely to see the barbed wire in the shrubs in front of my hotel. The staff explained it was in case of another riot.

The country seems ready to blow. There are vast wealth gaps between the elite that grew rich, often through the political patronage of ousted dictator Suharto, and the mass of people, many of whom live in vast shanty towns. Various regions are demanding autonomy or independence. The central government barely managed by President Wahid Abdurrahman, whose physical incapacities and mental inconsistencies seem to grow daily is slipping into irrelevance.

In the Moluccan Islands Christians and Muslims have been battling for more than a year. Over the last 18 months, 4,000 have died and more than 100,000 people have fled.

A group of Indonesian Christians with whom I recently met noted that the fighting started among local people, whose efforts to restore peace were impeded by Muslim fundamentalists. The "mutual approach for reconciliation was destroyed by outside," said one, whose son was killed in Ambon, the provincial capital.

Lobulisa Leo, a retired general, argues that "Ambonese, Christians and Muslims of Moluccan origin, are fed up." But the Muslims "must follow the provocateurs, or they will be killed."

In January more than 80,000 Muslims marched in Jakarta to demand a Jihad, or holy war, against Christians. Assembly speaker Amien Rais appeared at the rally, declaring that "Our patience has limits."

In the beginning the Christians were able to defend themselves. But Muslims advanced because they were "backed up by those outside," explained one retired military officer. Not just up to 3,000 Laskar Jihad, or "Holy Warrior Troops," but many policemen: "They sided with their brothers, who were battling Christians."

Similarly, some Indonesian soldiers sent to stop the killing have stood by while Jihad forces arrived; others have turned over their weapons. A number have actively intervened on behalf of Muslim fighters.

A military spokesman, Rear Air Marshal Graito Usodo, told the New York Times it was "inevitable" that soldiers would "act emotionally" and disobey orders. Even President Wahid, said one Christian leader, admitted to him in a private meeting that he would give a command but "it doesn't reach the grass roots."

Indeed, many Christians in Jakarta assume that enemies of Mr. Wahid are attempting to destabilize his regime. Some in authority share this fear. Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono told The Washington Post that he believes Suharto "cronies" are at work.

What do they hope to gain? Tjahyono Tri, grounds manager at Doulos Bible School, destroyed last December by a Muslim mob, fears the goal "is to make this a Muslim country." Other Christians agree.

The problem in the Moluccas is bad enough. Alas, violence is threatening to engulf the entire country.

Some 100 churches were burned down around the country in 1998 and 1999. Christians are not safe even in Jakarta, the nation's capital. "They hate Christians, because the number of Christians is growing. Muslims are converting. They feel Christians are threatening their religion," explains Robert Lesnussa, a Bible teacher.

Late last year, a Muslim mob of thousands descended upon Doulos, a modest seminary and hospital. "There was no reason," said Mr. Lesnussa, who explained that the 395 students had good relations with their neighbors. But a month before the attack Doulos was villified in a local mosque as a threat because it sought to "Christianize the Muslims in Indonesia." The rioters burned the buildings and killed a 23-year-old student.

Burned beams still lie amid concrete rubble. Unfortunately, to rebuild, "you must get permission," says Mr. Lesnussa, and the government typically refuses in the face of threats from surrounding Muslims. "There is no solution for Christians," he observes: "If you rebuild, many people will die."

Christian fears are palpable. In the Moluccas, "Christian villages have been burned down. People have fled to the mountains. They have no hope. That's why we need help," says Mr. Lobulisa. A group of Christians educators, journalists, pastors, retired military, and businessmen met recently with me and two other Americans in Jakarta to talk about rising persecution.

But they asked not to be identified since Muslims would object to them meeting with Westerners. They were simultaneously angry and anguished: As emotions rose, one shouted: the "people are crying for help."

They offered a series of horror stories: a son murdered, neighbors killed, villages uprooted, churches and schools burned. And all with the complicity of the government and security forces. As a former general puts it, "Despite all of the promises, it is getting worse."

What to do? All agree that the Jihad warriors need to be removed. Some would prefer to substitute police for army forces; others hope to make the military play a genuine peacekeeping role.

These require, as one Christian put it, "intervention from outside." A Christian journalist explained: "We want action from the United States. Or action from other Western countries, from the United Nations."

A coalition of churches has called for a mass evacuation of Christians and introduction of peacekeeping forces by the United Nations. The group I met with was united in little other than a desire that the U.S. do something.

One said simply: The "United States must speak loudly about this." Some wanted a formal investigation. Another demanded "moral support and pressure, strong pressure."

But most wanted more than words. The head of a Christian institute argued: "America and the Western countries have to contribute a concrete action to stop these actions." The leader of a Christian umbrella group suggested an embargo, which, however, others feared would boomerang against Christians. An evangelist suggested using the International Red Cross as a tripwire.

The participant whose son had been murdered allowed he would "welcome" Kosovolike intervention in the Moluccas. Said another, foreign intervention "needs to be directed like Kosovo. It needs to be discussed in the U.N. Security Council." A retired general said the goal was to "make the military neutral. If not, then act like in Kosovo."

Not that such intervention is likely or appropriate. Indonesia is simply too important to threaten and is ready to explode if shaken. In the Moluccas, a large proportion of the population would likely resist foreign occupation. Lobulisa, a retired three-star general who once served in the Moluccas, dismisses the option.

Moreover, the absence of security interests indicates that Western people rather than governments should take the lead. They should publicize Islamic depredations in Indonesia. Charitable aid also is needed. For instance, Christian Freedom International (www.christianfreedom.org), a private relief group based in Front Royal, Va., plans to assist some of the refugees now huddled in Moluccan camps.

The world is filled with tragedy. There often is little America can do to stop it. But those of us who live in safety far away should not be silent while others are being slaughtered overseas.

Doug Bandow is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute.

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