Indonesian leader tells UN to keep out of sectarian conflict in the Moluccas

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The Indonesian President, Abdurrahman Wahid, has ruled out a United Nations peace-keeping presence in the Moluccas despite the continuing violence between Christians and Muslims on the islands.

The Indonesian President, Abdurrahman Wahid, has ruled out a United Nations peace-keeping presence in the Moluccas despite the continuing violence between Christians and Muslims on the islands.

"Indonesia is able to resolve the sectarian war in the Moluccas islands itself," Mr Wahid told a rally of 20,000 party supporters in Surabaya, Java, yesterday, many of whom were wearing white robes, the traditional Muslim dress.

He revealed that the UN secretary general, Kofi Annan, had told him there was pressure on the UN's Security Council to send international peace-keepers to the region.

But Mr Wahid said Indonesia alone was in a position to end the fighting. In the latest outbreak yesterday, a sniper on the main island of Ambon shot dead a policeman in clashes between Muslims and Christians, security officials said.

In the past 18 months, nearly 4,000 people from both faiths have been killed in a cycle of sectarian violence across the Moluccas, the remote archipelago known as the Spice Islands in Dutch colonial times.

Yesterday's rally gave Mr Wahid's popularity a much-needed boost. He even received a surprise embrace from his main rival, the parliamentary speaker, Akbar Tandjung. The credibility of Indonesia's first democratically elected president was dealt a severe blow last week when he refused to explain the sackings of two key ministers in April.

Mr Wahid, who had made unsubstantiated allegations that the ministers were corrupt, later apologised by letter to the parliamentary lower house for raising political tension, and indicated he would be prepared to explain the sackings in a closed session.

But the President, who was elected in October and does not hold a majority in parliament, is unlikely to deflect criticism about his erratic and often unpredictable leadership, which has failed to reverse Indonesia's severe financial crisis or halt ethnic and religious conflicts throughout the country.

Mr Wahid is under fire in particular for his inability to bring an end to the religious violence in the Moluccas, where the declaration of a state of civil emergency in June has done nothing to calm the unrest.

Evidence that the Indonesian military was fighting on the side of the Muslims led to calls from Indonesia's Christian community and humanitarian agencies for a international forces to restore peace.

The head of Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights, Asmara Nababan, said on Friday: "I do not believe President Wahid has the capability to stop the fighting. For the sake of humanity we will have to co-operate with the international community."

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