January 31, 2000
volume 11, no. 21
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    VATICAN ( -- Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid will meet with Pope John Paul II at the Vatican on February 5.

    The Indonesian leader will visit the Vatican during an official trip to Italy. His conversations with the Holy Father will certainly focus on the violence between Muslims and Christians (predominantly Catholic) on the Molluccan Islands.

    The conversation will probably also include some discussion of the peace process in East Timor, which has recently won its independence from Indonesian after years of repression and bloodshed.

    The episodes of violence in the Indonesian islands have continued for over a year, and cost well over 1000 lives. During an Angelus audience in March 1999, Pope John Paul called for an end to the fighting. More recently, in his annual January address to members of the diplomatic corps, the Pontiff mentioned the islands as one of the world's major trouble spots; he called for the Indonesian people to "break the chains of violence, and heal the wounds of hatred."

    Although the violence in islands such as Ambon has pitted Muslims against Christians, most observers agree that the issues behind the fighting are not religious. The demographic make-up of the islands' population has changed significantly in recent months, as the collapse of the Indonesian economy in 1998 prodded many Muslim workers to relocate to the islands, where Christians had been a substantial minority. Indonesia's Ambassador to the Holy See, Irawan Abidin, has observed that the conflicts involve clashes between displaced workers (mostly Muslim) and established merchants (often Christian).

    Beyond the economic factors, however, some observers have charged that the rioting in Ambon has been deliberately provoked by Indonesian military officials, who are seeking an excuse to assert greater control. Ambassador Abidin has reported that the Indonesian government is investigating reports that the riots have been deliberately provoked and staged by outside agitators.

    Wahid came to power in 1999 as the first democratically elected president of Indonesia, which is the world's most populous Muslim country.


January 31, 2000
volume 11, no. 21

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