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Page last updated at 11:33 GMT, Monday, 28 June 2004 12:33 UK

Indonesia flashpoints: The Moluccas

Ever since Indonesia achieved independence in 1949, the Jakarta government has faced a constant battle to keep the nation's 13,000 islands together. Click on the map below for some of the main areas of conflict.

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The Moluccas

Indonesians living in the Moluccas are fearful of a repeat of the violence which blighted the island chain before a peace deal was struck in 2002.

In the three years before the peace accord, an estimated 5,000 people were killed and 500,000 displaced to other areas of Indonesia.

People in Ambon run down a street after violence between Christian and Muslim groups, May 1999
The violence first erupted in Ambon in February 1999
It was not always this way though. For many years, Christian and Muslim communities lived peacefully together through traditional village alliances.

But resentments had probably been simmering beneath the surface for some time before violence erupted in 1999.

Muslims believed that Christians were given the best jobs in the civil service - a legacy, perhaps, of the fact that under Dutch colonial rule, Christians were offered better education.

Christians feared that an influx of Muslims from other parts of Indonesia, as part of a nationwide transmigration project, would make them a vulnerable minority.

These differences were suppressed under the authoritarian rule of former President Suharto. But after his downfall in 1998, the fault lines were exposed.

THE MOLUCCAS: KEY FACTS
map
Island chain which used to be called the Spice Islands
54% of inhabitants are Muslim and 44% are Christian
Between 1999 and 2002, thousands were killed in clashes
Peace deal signed in 2002, but sporadic violence continues
In January 1999, violence finally erupted - sparked by a minor traffic accident on the island of Ambon.

The conflict quickly spread to the surrounding islands, and thousands of people were killed in the ensuing mayhem.

Outside agents - including Islamic militant groups such as Laskar Jihad, as well as armed forces from Jakarta - exacerbated the carnage still further.

The violence continued throughout 2000, but died down by mid-2001.

A peace accord was signed in February 2002, and both sides then set about rebuilding their lives and restoring order.

For a while it seemed that the peace deal was working.

But in April 2004, more than 40 people died in clashes sparked by an illegal rally by a Christian gang in Ambon.

With the renewal of sporadic acts of violence, observers have expressed scepticism about the peace deal's long-term success.




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