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Jonathan Head reports for BBC News
"No-one knows exactly what started this conflict"
 real 28k

Sunday, 12 December, 1999, 14:52 GMT
Wahid tells Ambon to stop fighting

Map of Indonesia

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid has told Christians and Muslims on the troubled Moluccan islands to resolve their differences or face intervention from the government.

More than 700 people have died in fighting between the two communities which has left a trail of destruction through the spice islands.

Ambon clashes The violence has spread throughout the islands
"What has happened in the Moluccas is a great tragedy but can be overcome," Mr Wahid said during a visit to the provincial capital Ambon.

"The people of the Moluccas have to try to solve their own problems...If the people cannot settle their problems, then the government will be forced to intervene.''

Mr Wahid was speaking after holding meetings with religious and community leaders from the rival factions.

He was accompanied by Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri and several government ministers.

This is not just a problem for this region. It is a national issue
President Wahid
Security was tight in Ambon, much of which has been reduced to ruins by a year of clashes.

The president had to be ferried from the airport to the town centre in a navy ship because the road connecting the two was blocked by barricades erected by rival communities.

The visit is Mr Wahid's first to one of Indonesia's trouble spots since he took office in October.

The BBC's Jakarta correspondent says Mr Wahid is respected in Ambon both as an Islamic leader by Muslims and as a supporter of religious tolerance by the Christian community.

And Megawati has enormous support for her party Democratic Party of Struggle in this part of Indonesia, making the two leaders perhaps the best placed individuals to kick start some kind of dialogue.

We're not separatists

Thousands of well-wishers lined the devastated streets of Ambon island to cheer Mr Wahid and Megawati.

Provincial governor Saleh Latuconsina said in a speech to mark the visit that despite the current problems, the islands were not plagued by the separatist demands that have shaken Aceh and Irian Jaya.

"The people of the Moluccas remain loyal to the Indonesian state and condemn any form of separatism," he added.

Mr Latuconsina said the religious violence, which erupted in Ambon in January and spread across the Moluccas, had left 776 people dead and 1,100 injured.

Thousands of houses have been destroyed in the violence and tens of thousands of people have fled to other Indonesian regions.

Residents have accused soldiers and police of escalating the violence by dividing along religious lines and joining in the fighting.

When he took office, Mr Wahid suggested his vice president should take on responsibility for dealing with the Moluccas.

Many of the crowd in Ambon wore red and black, the colours of Megawati's political party, an indication of the strong support she enjoys there.

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See also:
07 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Wahid plans hotspot tour
05 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Sectarian clashes erupt in Indonesia
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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