Ambon's Christians face "Islam or death"

Church leaders on Ambon, Indonesia, fear for the lives of 100,000 Christian refugees they believe are about to be besieged by Islamic jihad fighters.

...Roman Catholic and Protestant leaders called on the United Nations to protect the refugees from attacks by Muslim forces, Compass Direct News (see link #1 below) reported. If the U.N. will not send peacekeepers, said Roman Catholic Bishop of Ambonia Msgr. Jos Tethool, "the least we ask is that ships be kept at the ready to evacuate the surviving Christians."

...Attacks by the Muslim paramilitary Likshar jihad forced the Christians to leave their homes. The refugees are "crammed together on the last 10 percent of Ambon island" in the region of Paso, Tethool said. They are gathered in and around traditional Christian areas of Ambon City, Compass reported.

...Muslim troops are attempting to isolate the enclave by overtaking an airport near the town of Laha. If successful, they likely will begin a final push on Ambon City to drive all Christians from the island, church leaders fear.

..."The situation is most serious. The thousands of surviving Christians are desperately crying either for protection or evacuation," Tethool said. "If there are no ships waiting to evacuate them, they will be forced to choose between Islam or death."

...Christians churches observed nine days of fasting and prayer Sept. 26-Oct. 5, when the 16 Ambon congregations mourned their sins and asked God to deliver them from their enemies, Compass reported. They concluded with an ecumenical service at the Maluku Protestant Church in Ambon.

...The Christian community doubts that Indonesian military or local police units can or will protect them, Tethool said. Survivors have reported that military units openly participated in attacks on their villages, according to Compass, and some soldiers donned the white uniforms of jihad fighters to disguise themselves.

...More than 3,000 people reportedly have been killed in the Moluccas islands since January 1999. A disagreement between a Muslim bus driver and a Christian passenger erupted in rioting and Muslim calls for jihad, holy war, according to news reports. Islamic fighters from other regions of Indonesia and reportedly from other Muslim nations have responded to the call.

...Political leaders are unable to control the situation. Indonesia President Gus Wahid's June declaration of a civil emergency has had no impact because the military is not enforcing peace, church leaders said. Local government leaders have called for the Islamic troops to leave, to no effect.

...Some Muslim leaders have denounced the violence. A.T. Zees, a Muslim leader in Minahasa, told a crowd of Protestant, Catholic, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders Sept. 14 that the jihad fighters should leave, according to Compass. "In Islam, jihad is a holy war against all evils - not murdering Christians, destroying their houses and churches, robbing, and doing other contemptible deeds," he said. A number of peaceful Muslims have tried to protect Christians, according to news reports.

...The Moluccas once were a model of religious tolerance. About 90 percent of Indonesia is Muslim, but the population of the Moluccas, formerly the Spice Islands, has been evenly divided between Muslims and Christians, according to news reports.

Religion Today - October 23, 2000

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