Main Page | See live article | Alphabetical index


The Maluku Islands of Indonesia are also known as the Moluccas, Molucca Islands or Moluccan islands. The name is said to be derived from the Arabic phase "Al-Muluk" meaning "of kings". The islands were also historically known as the "Spice Islands" by the Chinese and Europeans, but this term has also been applied to other islands. The Banda Islands are included in the group.

The South Moluccas (Maluku Selatan) existed as a separate colony of the Netherlands until 1949, when they were ceded to the newly independent Republic of Indonesia. With the declaration of a unitary republic in 1950 to replace the federal state, the South Moluccas attempted to secede. There has been intermitent ethnic and nationalist violence on the islands and in the Netherlands ever since.

Maluku formed a single province of Indonesia from 1950 until 1999. In 1999 the Maluku Utara Regency was split off as a separate province of North Maluku. Its provisional capital is Ternate, on a small island to the west of the large island of Halmahera, although it is not particularly stable.

The main city and capital of Maluku province is Ambon City on the small Ambon Island.

The situation in much of Maluku has been highly unpredictable since conflict erupted in the province in January 1999. The subsequent 18 months were characterized by fighting between largely local groups of Muslims and Christians, the destruction of thousands of houses, the displacement of approximately 500,000 people, the loss of thousands of lives, and the segregation of Muslims and Christians. The following 12 months saw periodic eruptions of violence, which appeared more targeted and pre-meditated, designed to keep suspicions high and people segregated. As the situation became calmer on islands in the province apart from Ambon, people started to return home in these areas. In spite of numerous negotiations and the signing of a peace agreement in February 2002, tensions on Ambon Island remained high until late 2002, when a series of spontaneous 'mixings' between previously hostile groups lead to a sporadic, but generally increasingly stable peace.

Chronology of Events of Recent Conflict in Maluku

An argument between a Christian passenger and Muslim bus driver on January 19, 1999 develops into a fight that quickly spreads into days of violence with many casualties and much destruction of housing. The fighting quickly spreads to the nearby islands of Haruku, Seram and Saparua because of rumors.

January - February 1999 There is a four-month period of calm during which time Indonesia?s first free national and regional elections in 44 years take place largely without violence. May 12, 1999, a peace declaration is signed between religious leaders, community and traditional leaders and youth figures and organizations.

March - June 1999 From July 27, major riots take place with hundreds of shops and homes destroyed. In August fighting breaks out in the newly created province of North Maluku (which until 1999 had been part of Maluku province), primarily due to political and ethnic not religious reasons. The second half of 1999 saw regular fighting across Maluku province with many casualties.

January - May 2000 January 7, 2000, over 100,000 Muslims demonstrate in Jakarta calling for a jihad in Maluku in order to save the Muslims. In May the Laskar Jihad militia group begin to arrive in Maluku. 3,000 are reported to arrive in the province. They take control of the other Muslim militia groups. Tensions rise within both religious groups. Muslim militias start to try to clear Christian villages out of key transportation corridors.

On 27 June, President Abdurrahman Wahid declares a state of civil emergency, giving the police and military wide powers to act but reporting to the Governor. By July 2000 there were approximately 14,000 troops in Maluku. Many of the villages across the bay from Ambon town as well as the main university of Pattiumura are destroyed. Large-scale displacement of populations. In August 2000, the Yon Gab, Joint Battalion arrives made up of soldiers from other parts of Indonesia with the hope that they would not become involved with one side or the other. Open clashes between Muslims and Christians become more rare. March 2001 A bomb is thrown into the second floor of the library. Incidents occur regularly although there is no wide spread displacement on Ambon island. In December, approximately 200 Muslim and Christian leaders meet in Yogyakarta to explore the possibility of reach reconciliation in Maluku. Forced conversion of Christians on remote islands of Kesoui and Teor off Seram causes displacement of 800 families to Southeast Maluku. On the eve of the second anniversary of the conflict troops conduct ?sweepings? in Ambon. During the following days several police officers are arrested for partisan involvement with the conflict. Relations between the army and the Ambon police deteriorate further. The situation remains calm in Southeast Maluku and IDPs begin to return. The situation remains relatively calm with sporadic incidents.

Tensions rise in the build up to April 25, anniversary of the declaration of an independent state in Maluku, when members of the Maluku Sovereignty Front (FKM) raise independence flags. The leader of the FKM and the leader of Laskar Jihad are arrested although later both released. Starting on May 20th, masked men launch a series of attacks in Christian areas of Ambon resulting in eighteen deaths and widespread fear. On 14th June, the Joint Battalion conducts wide spread sweeping in Muslim areas of town, resulting in 23 Muslim deaths and the destruction of the Laskar Jihad radio station and a Laskar medical clinic.

The situation returns to a state of relative calm. The events of September 11th and the ensuing bombing in Afghanistan increase tensions towards internationals from Muslims but no direct threats are made towards humanitarian organizations or individuals. Sporadic incidents culminate in the bombing and sinking of the main ferry in Ambon, the California, with 18 killed.

In April, the Coordinating Minister for Peoples' Welfare, Jusuf Kalla, becomes actively engaged in trying to solve the conflict. Following lengthy discussions, a meeting is held in Malino, Sulawesi and a peace accord signed between 35 Muslim and 35 Christian delegates. This leads to wide spread celebrations in Ambon and considerable increased movement between Muslim and Christian areas of town. However on 4th April, the Governor's building, one of the main neutral meeting points in town is burned to a shell. The situation then becomes calmer until 25th April when FKM supporters again raise flags (this time on balloons) and trigger violence in the city. Muslim Militia attacks a Christian village burning 35 houses.