The recent conflict in Ambon cannot be considered as an independent phenomenon. There is a long dark history behind this never ending horizontal conflict. Ambon has not has conducive social situation since January 1999 where a massive fight took place. A massive chaos which killed around 1,000 people, 300 people were heavily injured, 142 with light injuries. Over 700 houses, 195 offices were destroyed and many vehicles burnt. In addition to that, over 100,000 people left their homes and become refugees, 30,000 of them live at camps far from decent living condition, suffering fear. Economics weaken but no sign of ending conflict.
Government has tried its best by sending more and more troops and polices to control the situation which becomes national security issues. The result is far from expectation. People loose trust to each other they even loose trust to police and government. What a sad condition of one of Indonesia’s most beautiful city with a lot of tourism potentials. Press has taken its part, mostly presumed as too shallow by explaining the conflicts are caused by mere difference in religions.
Many try to analyze what has happened there. Some said that the conflict is a series and a domino effect of the previous ones in Situbondo, July 27th tragedy, revolutionary May tragedy, Ketapang, Kupang, Tasikmalaya tragedies even the one with voodoo issues, and many more. Some suspect that all conflicts happen in Indonesia are part of a bigger scenario by elite politicians. Now, what actually happened during January to March 1999? Here is the thing:
It started when a public transport driver had a personal argument with a man. No one ever knows how this small fight then became social issues and there were even 2 different versions of stories; one was from Moslems perspectives another was from fellow Christians. That simple argument then expanded to religious issues which created dispute between local Moslems and Christians. Sadly speaking before the huge chaos took place, in Ambon it is considered normal the disputes between the 2 big religions, but on January 1999, Bayu (not the real name); a witness and local people from Batu Merah where the chaos took place initially; said that suddenly there was an invasion by so many unknown people to his town. He has been living there for a long time but none of the people invaded that he knows. This happened on Islamic holidays, Eid Al Fitr, 1999. He called military police asking for help but they answered that they has trusted that matters to local police station and that they cannot do anything about it.
He witnessed that there were several undercover police made shots to the air but the mass didn’t stop. They stopped by a garage and burnt some cloth then used those to burn cars and houses. In 30 minutes suddenly people shouting everywhere rumors that mosques and churches are burnt which stimulates even more anger from surrounding society. People started to gather based on the religion groups and attack each other. This was despite the fact that until that very second neither churches nor mosques was burnt.
This situation was very much extraordinary which causes many speculations occur mostly is that the conflict was somehow “written” as a scenario for a bigger political agenda. First of all, many locals at Batu Merah stated that they didn’t recognize any single face of the massive groups invading that day. Secondly, the invading group brought provocative brochures, spreading rumors that aimed to create fight between Moslems and Christians. Third of all, in no time people gather and forms big groups which impossibly happen if without former arrangement from a bigger power. There was also a rumor saying that Maluku governor, Mr. Latuconsina, would replace all public officials to Moslems. All in all, the quietness and peace Batu Merah in no time changed into a chaotic place people kill each other only based on religion, that was Moslems or Christian. Such conflict this big and massive and the fast spread would be impossible without any intelligent intervention and arrangement. This was the start and eversince Ambon has never been the same anymore. People are afraid; they have to pay some fee for protection even from police itself. People and the police no longer trust each other conflicts become daily routine. Indonesian outside Ambon can only know the stories from the media which cannot be confirmed whether they are reporting the truth or just adding more drama.
* Summarized from many sources including Tim Pencari Fakta of Partai Keadilan-Ambon, Tim Penyusun Fakta Yayasan al-Mukmin Jakarta, Asian Human Rights Watch New York, KONTRAS, Tim Relawan (Tirus) Ambon, Sala Waku Maluku Foundation; Press releases: Weekly tabloid “Umat”, “Sabili”, “Penabur”, “Tifa”, “Tempo”, “Tajuk”, “Detak” International press releases: Associated Press (AP), Reuters, Agence France Presse (AFP)