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Indonesia Violence Ends on Holiday

January 8, 2000

AMBON, Indonesia (AP) _ After two weeks of bloody Muslim-Christian fighting, islands in eastern Indonesia were quiet today as Muslims celebrated religious holidays under heavy security.

Thousands of Muslims left weapons at home to pray and celebrate Eid al-Fitr in the streets of troubled Maluku and North Maluku provinces.

``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. He, like many Indonesians, 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 one year ago, as Muslims celebrated the Eid al-Fitr holiday week, a minor scuffle between a Christian bus driver and his Islamic conductor in Ambon sparked violent clashes that have left at least 1,800 dead. The holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the Muslim holy month of fasting.

In the past two weeks alone, officials say hundreds of people have perished in pitched battles across the provinces, some 1,600 miles east of Jakarta, the national capital.

Maluku province was known as the Molaccas or Spice Islands during Dutch colonial rule.

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

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

Jakarta was also quiet today following three days of big 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.

Christians used to have a small majority in the Maluku provinces, but an influx of Muslims from Indonesia’s other islands over the past two decades has changed the religious makeup.

Update hourly