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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 14:36 GMT
Deadly foes embrace in Ambon
Christian representative IWJ Hendriks and his Muslim communities counterpart Abdul Wahab Polpoke sign the peace agreement
The two sides have agreed to hand over weapons
Muslims and Christians in Indonesia's Ambon city have marched for peace together, with many people from the two faiths hugging each other and shaking hands.

They were holding a rally to show their support for a peace treaty, signed two weeks ago, aimed at ending three years of religious violence in the eastern Moluccan islands.

People were actually shaking hands, hugging, talking to each other on the streets of the city

Father Hendrik, Christian church
The conflict, sparked by a minor traffic accident in 1999, has killed more than 5,000 people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes.

It remains to be seen whether the peace deal will hold - two bombs exploded in Ambon hours after Wednesday's rally. No-one was hurt.

But Muslims and Christians at the rally - who rarely mix - expressed optimism that the violence would end.

"For the first time in years, the segregation that has divided this city ceased to exist," said Father Hendrik of the Synod of Christian Churches in Ambon.

"People were actually shaking hands, hugging, talking to each other on the streets of the city."


Under the peace agreement, which was mediated by the government, both sides have agreed to hand over weapons. Police have set a deadline of Friday for that to happen.

Critics of the peace deal said Wednesday's rally was a set-up, claiming local authorities forced students and civil servants to attend in order to make up the numbers.

"[They were] afraid of a low turnout as the local resistance toward the pact is high at the grass-roots," said Anang, spokesman of a hardline Muslim group Ahlu Sunnah Wal Jamaah.

The group's armed wing, Laskar Jihad, sent thousands of fighters from Java to the Moluccas in mid-2000, escalating the violence.

The peace deal calls for an independent inquiry into the activities of Laskar Jihad as well as into two Christian separatist groups, the Front for the Sovereignty of Maluku and the South Maluku Republic (RMS) movement, and a Christian group called Laskar Kristus

The Christian and Muslim communities are almost evenly split in the Moluccas, while Indonesia as a whole is 85% Muslim.

More peace rallies are expected in Ambon on Saturday.

See also:

14 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Bomb blasts follow Moluccan peace deal
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Moluccan peace deal
11 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccan leaders agree to peace
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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