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DATE=1/7/2000 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=INDONESIA-AMBON (L) NUMBER=2-257864 BYLINE=GARY THOMAS DATELINE=BANGKOK CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Thousands of Indonesians have rallied in central Jakarta over the clashes between Christians and Muslims in the troubled Maluku Islands. The Navy has now blockaded the islands, where intense sectarian warfare between Muslims and Christians has exploded in the past year. As VOA Correspondent Gary Thomas reports from our Southeast Asia bureau in Bangkok, Muslims are now clamoring to avenge the deaths of their co-religionists. TEXT: Jakarta's Merdeka Square was a tumult of anger as thousands of Muslims rallied after Friday prayers to demand that the government take action in Maluku Islands. The protestors waved banners and shouted slogans calling for a "jihad" or holy war against Christians in the islands, where Muslims and Christians have been battling for the past year. Participants said they are ready to fight in the islands to defend fellow Muslims. The military has sent thousands of additional troops to the Malukus, also known as the Spice Islands, to confiscate weapons and restore order. As of Thursday, the Navy had also imposed an air and sea blockade to prevent arms or other assistance from reaching the warring factions. The violence began one year ago on Ambon, the main island of the Maluccan chain, and spread to other islands. At least 15-hundred people are believed to have died in the sectarian warfare, although some other estimates put the death toll far higher. Thousands of people have taken refuge in schools, mosques, churches, and military barracks. Harold Crouch, a specialist on Indonesian political and military affairs at the Australian National University in Canberra, says the tensions have been building for a while because of the influx of Muslim migrants. He says the lid came off with the departure of President Suharto's authoritarian rule and the advent of a democratic government. // Crouch Act // During the period of economic growth in Indonesia, quite a lot of migrants came from Sulawesi into Ambon. They were people of a different ethnic group, but mainly Muslim. And that tipped the balance in favor of Muslims against Christians. That gradually took place over 20, 30 years. And I think that has contributed a lot to the present tensions politically. // end act // Mr. Crouch says the military now has additional reserves to call on due to its departure from its former territory of East Timor. But he points out that lower ranks are recruited locally, and that troops could get drawn into the conflict, if they are not already. // Crouch Act // A corporal or a sergeant or even a major is going to get terribly upset if his family has been slaughtered or something. He might then help a Christian group attack the Muslim village. And this will mean that the Muslims that have been attacked find they have a relative in the military or the police. So the military or police can be dragged into cases like that, which would not be the case in more ethnically homogenous provinces. // end act // Friday's protest come just one day before the feast of Eid-Al-Fitr marking the end of the holy Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, and there are fears that new clashes could erupt.(signed) Neb/gpt/GC/PLM 07-Jan-2000 05:31 AM EDT (07-Jan-2000 1031 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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