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Tuesday, 30 November, 1999, 13:05 GMT
Indonesia withdraws troops from Moluccas
Map of Indonesia Plan to partition provincial capital of Ambon

By Jakarta correspondent Jonathan Head

The Indonesian armed forces has said it will withdraw three battalions of troops from the troubled Moluccas because of accusations of bias.

It is the first time the military has admitted that its forces may be taking sides in the conflict between Muslim and Christian communities which has claimed more than 500 lives in the Moluccas this year.

The people of the Moluccas have repeatedly said that the troops who were sent to the islands to quell the religious violence there have instead been joining in and making it worse.

Replacement

A spokesman for the armed forces told the BBC that battalions of soldiers would be replaced because they had become biased and were taking sides in the feud between Christians and Muslims.

The clearest evidence of this is in the injuries of the victims. Earlier this year when the conflict first broke out, most casualties suffered from machete and arrow wounds.

But for the past four months, nearly all the dead have been killed by gunshots and only the military has modern guns. Both Christians and Muslims accuse the security forces of shooting indiscriminately into crowds of civilians.

Partition plan

The military has also announced a plan to partition the provincial capital of Ambon along religious lines, although it is hard to see how that can be done in a city where the two communities often live side by side.

The behaviour of troops and police in the Moluccas is yet another worrying indication of the chronic lack of discipline which has appeared this year within the ranks of the armed forces, following unprovoked massacres in Aceh and the wave of destruction in East Timor.

It makes it difficult for the military to continue to argue that it alone can guarantee national stability.

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See also:
21 Mar 99 |  SPECIAL REPORT
Ambon's troubled history
03 Apr 99 |  Asia-Pacific
New strife in Moluccas
27 Jul 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Ambon violence flares again
16 May 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Ambon tense after riot deaths
26 Jul 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Indonesian vote in doubt

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