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Monday, 11 February, 2002, 15:54 GMT
Moluccan leaders agree to peace
Smoke rises in central Ambon following Muslim and Christian clashes, December 1999
The violence erupted three years ago
Christian and Muslim leaders from Indonesia's eastern Moluccas Islands have agreed to end the armed conflict there, one of the bloodiest in South East Asia.

The agreement came on the first day of peace talks after both delegations held separate discussions with government mediators.

But a BBC correspondent at the talks says there are still big gaps between the two sides.

More than 5,000 people have been killed in fighting since violence erupted between the two communities in January 1999. Hundreds of thousands have fled their homes and the city of Ambon has been devastated.

A government minister said: "Both sides are in agreement that the conflict, pitting armed civilian groups from both camps, should be halted."

But both sides want action to be taken against the other:

  • Christian leaders want all members of the radical Islamic paramilitary group, the Laskar Jihad, to be expelled from the province

  • The Muslim delegation wants the government to take measures against a Christian separatist group called the RMS or South Maluku Republic.

Indonesian Welfare Minister Jusuf Kalla held separate meetings with the two delegations of religious and community leaders at the hill resort of Malino in South Sulawesi.

Officials have refused to say whether Laskar Jihad are represented at the meetings.

Similar talks in December led to Muslims and Christians agreeing to surrender their weapons.

Bloody conflict

The fighting was sparked by a minor traffic accident in the main city of Ambon, but now involves paramilitaries from Indonesia's main island of Java.

The Moluccas' 2.1 million people are almost evenly split between Christians and Muslims, while the rest of Indonesia is 85% Muslim.

Thousands of Laskar Jihad fighters arrived in the Moluccas, previously known as the Spice Islands, in mid-2000, attacking and burning dozens of Christian villages. The violence calmed down a little last year.

The group's leaders say their aim is to eradicate Christianity in the Moluccas.

The Christian and Muslim communities in the city of Ambon are now separated by a strip of no-man's land.

See also:

20 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sulawesi factions agree peace plan
12 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccas tense after riots
04 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Afghan fighters 'seen' in Sulawesi
20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Laskar Jihad?
26 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Troubled history of the Moluccas
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