Successionist movement outlawed by Indonesian government

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The Independent Online

The Indonesian government has outlawed a secessionist movement in the Maluku islands, a region devastated by fighting between the Christian and Muslim communities.

The Indonesian government has outlawed a secessionist movement in the Maluku islands, a region devastated by fighting between the Christian and Muslim communities.

The mainly Christian group, known as the Maluku Sovereignty Front, has become increasingly vocal in the past few months. It wants the southern part of the Maluku archipelago to become an independent nation.

So far, their struggle to secede has been peaceful, unlike in other Indonesian provinces such as Aceh and Irian Jaya where separatist rebellions have claimed thousands of lives.

Maluku governor Saleh Latuconsina banned the group saying it threatened to further destabilize the region, The Jakarta Post newspaper reported. He said he had ordered security forces to crack down on the group should they try to raise their separatist flag.

The leader of independence movement, Alex Manputty, said the group would lobby the United Nations and foreign governments.

"We will abide by the government's demand not to raise the flag. We will not fight against it," he said.

Sectarian tensions in the Malukus first erupted in 1950, when the Christians – many with ties to the former Dutch colonial administration – proclaimed an independent Republic of the South Moluccas. The uprising was eventually crushed by Indonesian forces.

The region of two million people, eventually became a popular tourist destination. It was considered to be a model of inter–religious tolerance in Indonesia, but sectarian fighting broke out in January, 1999.

At least 5,000 people have been killed since then.

The bloodshed was blamed on an influx of Muslim settlers from other parts of the country. The migrants upset the evenly split religious balance and came to dominate retail trading, siphoning off business from the Christians.

Tensions were further inflamed by the arrival of a Muslim paramilitary force known as Lasker Jihad, whose 3,000 members have murdered hundreds of Christians in a series of raids against coastal villages.

The archipelago, about 1,600 miles northeast of Jakarta, was known as the Spice Islands in colonial times.

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