Indonesian government sends forces to quell sectarian violence

Updated On: Sep 14, 2011

After violent clashes erupted in Indonesia's remote Maluku islands over the weekend, the Indonesian government has sent hundreds of special forces to the eastern city of Ambon to stabilise the situation.

After approval from President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, often criticised for reacting slowly to sectarian violence, police said the provincial capital, Ambon, was calm by Monday.

Sectarian clashes between Christians and Muslims had left at least seven people dead and 80 injured on Sunday, after a rumour a Muslim motorcycle taxi driver had been killed by Christians. Police say he died in a road traffic accident, but hundreds of texts saying he had been killed by Christians were circulated shortly after his death.

Groups armed with machetes and rocks, including the drivers family, clashed after the drivers funeral.

Report: Toll in Indonesia sectarian clash rises to seven  (AFP, 13 September 2011)
Report: Troops sent after deadly clashes in Indonesia's Ambon  (BBC News, 12 September 2011)

By Tuesday, National Police spokesman Maj. Gen. Anton Bachrul Alam said more than 400 special forces had been deployed in Ambon.

The provincial capital was scene to Muslim and Christian clashes between 1999 and 2002 when thousands were killed. Although a peace deal was signed in 2002, sporadic violence has continued.

International Crisis Group analyst Sidney Jones said unresolved grievances and lingering memories helped trigger the violence, and commented that new technology required new solutions to managing civil unrest. "when messages get sent by short text message on mobile phone the way they did this time around, the government needs to be prepared instantly to quash rumors by also sending out sms’s [text messages] on a massive scale.”.

Last month, the government handed down relatively light sentences of six months to the leaders of a brutal mob attack that killed three members of a minority Muslim sect, the Ahmadiya. The verdict drew condemnation from the international community, but sparked little reaction from religious leaders and government officials.

Report:  Indonesia Government Tries to Defuse Muslim-Christian Clashes (Voice of America, 13 September 2011)
Report: Indonesia sends troops to quell sectarian clashes  (AP, 13 September 2011)

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