Persecution of Christians in Ambon, Indonesia


EYEWITNESS REPORT OF ATROCITIES IN AMBON

The following is a report of a visit to the Ambon war zone from a Senior Pastor of a Christian Church in Indonesia whose name has been withheld for security reasons.

I have recently returned from a visit to the island of Ambon. What I witnessed is almost indescribable. I arrived at the airport but could not go via the road to the city of Ambon. Certain areas are controlled by Moslems and we were told that the Moslems stop all vehicles, check ID cards and shoot the Christians on sight. Instead I took a speedboat to the other side of the bay where the city of Ambon is located. The city of Ambon is divided into two areas controlled by Christians and Moslems. There is no communication between the two areas with the exception of police and the military. The Moslems control the area of the harbour and the Christian the airport and part of the city. Army units guard the boundary areas between the Moslem and Christian areas. Hundreds of churches and thousands of houses of Christians have been burned by the Moslems, usually assisted by Moslem soldiers of the armed forces. I read many reports of attacks on Christian villages and I am mentioning some reports in this account.

We visited one village called Hative Kecil and saw a Protestant and a Pentecostal Church burned down, together with all the houses of the Christians in the village. The Pastor reported that the attack came after a Moslem mob had stoned the village for the previous hour. Then 5 military personnel posted in the village came down the street firing into the air. They paved the way for the Moslem mobs to loot and burn down the houses of the Christians.

The people told me that the Immanuel church was being guarded by 26 Christians. When the soldiers got to the church they went into the church continuing to shoot. They killed 24 of the men and dragged their bodies outside the church where they were burnt. The soldiers belonged to the elite strategic reserve command and also some members of the paramilitary mobile police. The victims ranged in ages from 18 to 35. The pastor said that by the time they returned to the scene 21 of the bodies were beyond recognition so they were buried in a mass grave.

This is but one account of many villages burnt, Christians killed, bodies cut open, people beheaded by masses of Moslem mobs shouting, "God is great!" I have dozens of reports of atrocities committed by Moslems assisted by members of the Indonesian Armed Forces.

We visited two wards and several rooms of the local hospital and met with about 50 men who were wounded during the rioting in the city of Ambon. All the others in the hospital have the same story and told me how they were shot by soldiers of the TNI (Indonesian Army).

I then visited the village of Waiheru, on the island of Ambon consisted of 65% Moslems and 35% Christians. They had been living harmoniously together for many years. Their village covers and area of about 3 square kilometres.

Recently a Moslem mob assisted by armed forces members attacked the village and burned down approximately 400 houses of the Christians. The Protestant and Roman Catholic churches were saved from destruction because both churches were guarded by 7 Christian soldiers of the same army units.

The next day a lady from the same village was beheaded by Moslems and her body burned. She was buying needs for her family in a Moslem controlled market where she had been shopping for many years. Another lady was also beheaded; her head placed upon her body and consequently the body was burned. She had crossed the road to get some vegetables from her garden.

I witnessed the burning of the village of Ahuru, a Roman Catholic village in the city of Ambon. The strategy of the Moslems (assisted by Indonesian soldiers) is to scare away the Christians from the villages with several hours of shooting at the houses and at the people. The Christians flee the area. Then the Moslems move in, loot the homes of the Christians and set fire to their houses. I took a series of pictures of the houses being burned one after the other. No one comes and helps these Christians. I saw the body of another man who was shot and killed by one bullet while trying to save people from their burning houses. He leaves behind his wife and 7 children. I saw 3 trucks roll by full of Army troops but it made no difference. The houses kept being burned. After the village is burned down, the military come and guard the burned out village so that the people donít return. Village after village is being burned down and little by little the Moslems are driving out the Christians and occupy their areas. The Christians are trying to defend their property, their land, houses and their families. They have fabricated homemade handguns and pistols but they are no match for the Indonesian soldiers with modern weapons, grenades, teargas and even armed vehicles. I saw some dozens of young men walking in a long line toward the battlefield holding their primitive weapons. They cried out to me. We have no one to help us! The world is paying no attention to us as we are loosing our homes, land, churches and family members.

Soldiers entered the village of Mardika shooting and using tear gas to drive out the Christians. Seventeen people died that day. After the Christians fled their village the Moslems came in, looted all the houses and burned down over 100 houses. They write degrading words about the Lord Jesus Christ on the walls of the burned out houses. They come prepared with cans of gasoline to do their evil work. We witnessed 2 burned bodies lying in he doorway of their house.

Today 27 December 1999 I received information direct from Ambon that yesterday 1,000 Christians fled to Ambon city from the island of Buru. On Buru 89 people were killed in violence in last few days. Last night in Ambon around midnight, the main Protestant Church (Silo Church) was destroyed by fire. The church came under attack around 7pm while a worship service was taking place. A further attack took place around 11pm. In the violence that followed, 39 Christians were shot. The Church which lies about 100 metres away from the Al-Fatah Mosque, was carried out in cooperation with army units using armoured vehicles. Christians defending their church were rendered powerless because the army units kept shooting at them. The fire engine which tried to put out the fires was also attacked by armed soldiers. Reports indicate that those responsible are Muslim groups with the assistance of sections of the military. Bethlehem Church, a predominantly Chinese Christian congregation, is now under immediate threat. Thousands of people are fleeing to the mountains for protection while military-backed gangs burn the city. No-one feels safe. The military are shooting people in the streets as Ambon city is now a war zone.

Itís a clash between Christians and Muslims but the issues are far more complex. The Indonesian military is actively backing Muslim newcomers as local people, who are predominantly Christian, are being forced to get out or be killed.

Church leaders are pleading for the international community to put pressure on Indonesia to stop the violence in Ambon. Meanwhile, shooting continues in the streets while many homes are being destroyed. Those killed include women and children. Fears of a bloody Christmas in Ambon have been realised. People have grave fears about the future. In words that echoed similar pleas from Dili last September, the people cry "we need help!" "When will the world intervene to stop the violence and death in Ambon! Can Australia help? Itís our only hope. There is nothing we can do for tonight Ambon is dying". Please pray for the people of Ambon and especially remember those Christians who are being terrorised through a campaign of violence and intimidation.

UPDATE ON AMBON SITUATION

In a statement issued in Jakarta the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI) has demanded that international peacekeepers be placed in riot-torn Maluku province if Indonesian security forces are unable to stop the violence.

At this moment, indications are that an all-out attack is being planned to burn the nearby Maranatha Protestant church as well, lending truth to the much-rumoured plan of Muslims to take over Ambon before the upcoming Idulfitri (end of Muslim fasting month) holiday (Jan. 8). If Maranatha can be overpowered, the main opposition from Christians on the island will have been broken. Over a thousand jihad fighters clad in white clothes from Leihitu district have already been transported by motorboats, under the very nose of naval security units who were supposed to prevent the amassing of Muslims in the area. The PGI expressed its "deepest concern" over what it claimed were escalating attacks on Christian congregations in Maluku province over the past two weeks. "The massive attacks against Christian congregations is a direct consequence of the lack of transparency in the handling of the conflict in Maluku by the Indonesian Military (TNI) and the Police Force," the PGI statement said. "If accountability is not undertaken, then, taking into consideration the continuing violence and heeding the peopleís strong feelings, it would be best if Indonesian army and police forces were pulled out of Maluku and replaced with international peacekeepers. "We consider this conflict, which has been given a religious label, as an extermination of the indigenous Maluku people along with their social institutions to be replaced by another society whose form cannot yet be ascertained," said the statement signed by the PGI Chairman, and General Secretary.

REQUEST FOR PRAYER AND INTERNATIONAL ACTION

Please uphold Christians in Ambon before the Lord. The third phase of this religious-ethnic conflict began about a week ago. There are indications that the Moslem radical groups in Ambon are planning to take revenge on the local Christians and burn down the entireChristian quarters before the end of the current Ramadan, which will be on January 8-9, 2000. The plan is to destroy the Christian community like the Catholic capital of East Timor, Dilli, three months ago.

CNN reports that the fight has turned ugly, as soldiers from various army and marine units are now disobeying their superiors and beginning to take sides, the Christian soldiers/marines supporting their Christian brothers pitted against Moslem soldiers who are siding with their fellow believers.

Many Christians have already decided to leave their houses for fear of being shot at by the soldiers, and this will open many areas to attacks and further burnings. Snipers have been stationed in various strategic high rise buildings, and even the Chief of Police of Ambon was shot at when he drove by in his car. Armoured vehicles are also being used by the Moslem soldiers in this "unholy" war, whereas many civilians have been seen carrying grenades and using them effectively.


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