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Indonesia Violence Stops on Holiday

January 8, 2000

AMBON, Indonesia (AP) _ Thousands of Muslims left their weapons at home Saturday as Islamic religious holidays quelled two weeks of bloody Muslim-Christian fighting in eastern Indonesia’s islands.

Troubled Maluku and North Maluku provinces were quiet as Muslims prayed on the holiday of Eid al-Fitr and celebrated in the streets under heavy security. The holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

``Last year the violence started on Eid al-Fitr. Let us hope this year’s celebration means an end to the fighting,″ said Sanusi, a Muslim cleric in Maluku’s capital, Ambon. Like many Indonesians, he uses only one name.

Despite calls for peace for the holiday, Indonesia’s military took no chances. Hundreds of heavily armed soldiers, backed up by armored personnel carriers, stood guard across the badly damaged town in case fighting broke out.

Nearly a year ago, as Muslims celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday week, a minor scuffle in Ambon sparked violent clashes that have left at least 1,800 dead. In the past two weeks alone, officials say hundreds of people have been killed in pitched battles across the provinces, some 1,600 miles east of Jakarta, the national capital.

In Ternate in North Maluku, the site of some of the worst fighting in recent days, hundreds of people took to the streets Saturday to celebrate.

``Even the refugees who have come from other islands are celebrating,″ said one resident, Maruf Rifai.

Jakarta was also quiet Saturday following three days of large Muslim protests. On Friday, about 80,000 Muslim demonstrators threatened to declare a holy war if the government did not immediately put an end to the sectarian bloodshed.

The Maluku provinces were known as the Molaccas or Spice Islands during Dutch colonial rule. Christians used to have a small majority in the provinces, but an influx of Muslims from Indonesia’s other islands over the past two decades has changed the religious makeup.

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