Posts made in May, 2017

Origins of the Maluku Civil War

Posted by on May 29, 2017 in Uncategorized | 0 comments

Origins of the Maluku Civil War

The Maluku wars should first be seen as a massive failure of the state to provide security to its citizens. At the simplest level, the problem was a typical Third World lack of capacity, especially on the periphery. Ambon’s police station had room for only twenty detainees; there was only one new and one very old fire engine and practically no fire hydrants in a city of 300,000 at the outbreak of fighting; the provincial disaster relief coordinating service, tasked with simply counting victims, did not even have a motorcycle, let alone a motorcar. [1] Historically known as the Moluccas or “the spice isles,” the Maluku archipelago lies 2,600 kilometers east of Jakarta. The spice trade attracted Dutch, Portuguese and British interest to the region, leaving behind a rich and tolerant heritage of Catholic, Protestant, Muslim and animist traditions. The Christian communities in Maluku and North Sulawesi were recruiting grounds for the Colonial Army and civil service. With Dutch largesse, those minorities had access to better educational opportunities than the Muslim majority. Colonial rulers employed Ambonese Christian troops to suppress unrest on Java and Muslim areas. Locals resented the “black Ambonese” because of their ties to the colonial rulers and reputation for cruelty. After the failed Republic of South Maluku (RMS) revolt in the early-1950s, Holland brought 12,500 Ambonese Colonial Army soldiers and their families to the Netherlands. Those immigrants and their descendents form the core for a vibrant Ambonese community in the Netherlands today. After the Army suppressed the RMS rebellion, President Sukarno reached out to Maluku residents, awarding the province prestigious national development projects, including a shipyard and a national oceanography institute in Ambon, and a huge sugar mill on Seram Island. Sentiment toward Jakarta improved appreciably over the next decade – to the extent the population displayed little sympathy for the regional rebellions on Sumatra and Sulawesi during the late-1950s. Resentment toward the center rekindled in the late-1960s after the Soeharto government dismantled the national development projects, as New Order and military-linked conglomerates moved in to exploit Maluku’s abundant timber, mineral and maritime resources, and due to increasing government-sponsored transmigration and spontaneous migration to the region. In many places, Maluku Muslims (a slight majority) and non-Muslims had lived together for hundreds of years in relative peace and harmony. The influx of migrants, many from South and Southeast Sulawesi, during the 1980s and 1990s upset the demographic and cultural balance. Many, especially in the Christian community, resented the economic competition from the predominantly Muslim migrants and their inroads into local government. Buffeted by the forces of urbanization, ethnic gangs, high unemployment and lingering effects from the monetary crisis, the region was ripe for conflict by the time violence erupted in early-1999. Old prejudices were evident in Jakarta’s paranoia over activities by the small RMS and its latter day manifestation, the Maluku Sovereignty Front (Front Kedaulatan Maluku, FKM). The RMS and FKM were not religious movements per se, but most followers were Christians and most Indonesians considered them Christian groups. The FKM embraced Christian resentment toward the Muslim community’s economic and political success, bolstered by the influx of...

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