National

Ampera village: An oasis
in a former battlefield

Residents of Ampera subdistrict, Masohi district in Central Maluku regency, say they refuse to be caught up in another conflict, after previous riots rendered them homeless victims.

When sectarian riots rocked Masohi, growing out of the conflict in Ambon in December 1999, Muslim and Christian communities in Ampera were forced from their homes as their area became one of the battle zones. Entire homes in the area were torched during the riots.

Those who fled lived as refugees in temporary camps for more than three uncertain years.

The government has rebuilt their homes where they once stood, albeit modestly. The homes are built uniformly, with walls made of second-rate timber, despite the different social standings of the occupants -- civil servants, bank employees, entrepreneurs, contractors, teachers, ojek (motorcycle taxi) drivers and becak (pedicab) drivers. Only those who can afford to have extended their homes.

In Masohi, the villages hit worst during the conflict were Letwaru and Ampera, west and east of Masohi, respectively. Their locations, bordering areas where people from the different denominations coexisted, made them prime targets for rioters.

Other affected areas included Lesana, Namaelo, Namano and Namasina subdistricts, inhabited predominantly by a single denomination, but not located next to settlements of rival factions.

Ampera residents were aware that both sides would suffer if the conflict in Letwaru reached their village, and that no victors would emerge from the riots, as occurred after the 1999 clashes. And so they refused to be provoked by the recent Masohi riot on Dec. 9.

When fire engulfed 67 homes and houses of worship in Letwaru subdistrict, located just 3 kilometers from Ampera, Muslims and Christians in Ampera instead banded together to protect their area.

They firmly rejected the arrival of outsiders for fear of instigation.

"It's so easy for them to burn down our homes, because they're only made of wood. They'd be totally destroyed just by dousing them in fuel. But residents from both communities in Ampera have experienced the pain of becoming refugees. We don't want it to happen again," M. Syafri, an Islamic youth figure in Ampera, told The Jakarta Post recently.

Besides taking refuge with his family after their home was burned down, Syafri was once shot at a temple, putting him in a month-long coma in hospital.

"It wasn't just me -- many of my Christian neighbors became victims. Some had their hands severed by bombs, and some died in the riots. We're aware if the recent riot in Letwaru reached our area, we would be victims again," he said.

Alfaris Kaihena, 42, head of the Tiberias Protestant Church's Ampera parish, told the Post that Ampera residents had refused to get caught up in the conflict because both communities had committed themselves to safeguarding the area together, and to reject any bad influence from outside.

"Ampera subdistrict was a conflict zone and we all became refugees. We have a common understanding to reject any influence from outside, including rumors of the arrival of attackers from outside our area," Kaihena said.

Josy Patty, a neighborhood unit chief in Ampera, said residents were committed to protecting their surroundings from rioters because they wished to live peacefully together.

"We can take part in our daily activities and seek a living in a peaceful manner," he said.

Patty added he was proud of the members of his community because none of them were forced to flee, although the riot had already broken out in Masohi.

"We instead protected our surroundings together. Despite the presence of military troops from the 731st Kabaressy Battalion, we don't want Muslim and Christian residents to guard just their respective areas. We even mingled together during night watches," he said.

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