Stemming violence in Indonesia

Fearing a possible backlash from Muslims offended by revelry during the holy month of Ramadan, local authorities have closed nightspots and set strict limits on New Year's festivities.

Yesterday,a senior official of the influential Indonesian Ulema Council urged a time of reflection in anticipation of the year's end.

"We of course hope that despite joyously welcoming the new millennium, people will respect the holy fasting month," said Hassanudin, who like many Indonesians uses only one name.

About 90 percent of Indonesia's 210 million people are Muslims, making it the world's most populous Muslim nation. There are sizable Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu minorities.

Indonesia's Constitution guarantees religious freedoms for all its citizens, but minorities have been regularly targeted during the past two years of political and economic turmoil.

Two weeks ago, a mob burned down a Christian social center in eastern Jakarta. Hundreds have died this year in clashes between Muslims and Christians in the Spice Islands, a province 1,500 miles east of Jakarta.

The violence has continued despite calls for peace by new President Abdurrahman Wahid, a revered Islamic leader and advocate of sectarian tolerance.

Indonesia's military yesterday took over security in riot-torn Ambon island (Spice), where 63 people have been killed in the latest violence.

Fighting between Muslims and Christians there, once held up as a model of religious tolerance and multiethnic Indonesia, has been raging for almost a year.

In Jakarta, Mr. Wahid said that he would not declare a civil emergency though he supports handing security responsibilities to the military. "The quarrel between the Muslims and the Christians has grown to such a dimension.... I think for the next one or two days the [military] intervention is needed."

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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