Sept. 13, 2011

JAKARTA, Sept. 13 (UPI) — Police in Ambon, Indonesia, will pursue anyone they suspect of involvement in violence between Christian and Muslim groups that left six people dead and around 80 injured.

Inter-ethnic violence erupted in Ambon, capital of Indonesia’s Maluku province — also known as the Moluccan Islands — during the funeral of Muslim man killed in a road accident.

Rioting broke out Sunday after rumors surfaced that the motorcycle taxi driver had been tortured to death by Christians.

“We will enforce the law,” National Police spokesman Inspector General Anton Bachrul Alam said. “We are currently focusing on pacifying the situation. The investigation is still under way.”

Police were helped by several hundred troops to quell street fighting after cellphone text messages circulated to Muslims that the driver had been set upon by Christians, the BBC said.

Police said the man died on the way to hospital after losing control of his motorbike and crashing.

Ethnic relations are uneasy in Maluku, formerly known as the Spice Islands and which is culturally and geographically associated with the more Christian Melanesia. Maluku is around 55 percent Muslim and 45 percent Christian.

Tensions periodically erupt into deadly street fighting, especially since the 1980 after the federal government in Jakarta relocated many Muslim migrants from the more densely populated Java Island.

The main city and capital of Maluku province is Ambon on the small Ambon Island and with a population of around 330,000, 2010 census data indicate.

Ambon also is home to the state-owned Pattimura University and the Indonesian Christian University of Maluku, a private Protestant university. Both were seriously damaged during ethnic violence in 1999-2002.

The Arabs first brought Islam to the Spice Islands in the 13th century; the Spanish and Portuguese arrived in the 16th century bringing Christianity followed in the 17th century by the Dutch.

Ambon Island was the site of a major Dutch naval base, captured by the Japanese in 1942. In 1950, after Indonesian independence in 1945, Ambon was the center of an uprising against Indonesian rule.

Rebel groups proclaimed the Republic of the South Moluccas but Indonesia reasserted control within weeks, although a low-key armed struggle existed until 1963, especially on the island of Seram.

A self-declared Republic of South Moluccas government-in-exile has existed since the 1950 defeat, based in the Netherlands.

In April last year, Radio Netherlands Worldwide said that John Wattilete, a Dutch lawyer and son of Moluccan immigrants, had been appointed the new president of the South Moluccan government in exile. His appointment took place in the village of Bemmel in the Netherlands province of Gelderland.

Conflicts between Christians and Muslims from 1999-2002 left more than 5,000 dead and half a million people displaced — the worst ethnic violence since Indonesia’s independence from its colonial ruler, the Netherlands, in 1945.

Source: United Press International (UPI).