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Update 00/01 on ICRC activities in the Moluccas

20-04-2000 Operational Update

 Background  

In January 1999 inter-communal violence broke out in Ambon, South Maluku Province. Since then, the violence has spread throughout the islands of the Moluccas, killing hundreds, displacing hundreds of thousands and causing widespread destruction. Order has not yet been restored by Indonesian security forces and the population polarizes as the violence continues.

The Moluccas comprise about 1,000 islands with a land area of approximately 75,000 sq. km, spread over a total area that is ten times as great. The region is divided into the provinces of North Maluku and South Maluku. The approximately 2,000,000 inhabitants of the islands comprise a number of groups, including an indigenous population of Christians and Muslims, and groups who have migrated to the Moluccas from other provinces and are predominantly Muslim. These groups feed into a situation that is more complex than simple sectarian violence.

    

 General situation in the Moluccas  

An estimated 350,000 people have been displaced by the violence in the Moluccas, either within the two provinces or to other islands in the Indonesian archipelago. Of these, 200,000 are reported to be in North Maluku, which was the scene of much of the recent violence. An additional 17,000 people have fled from North Maluku to the north of the neighbouring island of Sulawesi, where camps for the displaced have been set up around Manado and Bitung. The provincial governmen t in North Maluku is in the process of re-establishing itself after an administrative re-organization, and there is a limited presence of international humanitarian organizations to help the authorities in their efforts to cope with the needs created by the upheaval. With mountainous interiors and poor road networks, many of the islands have populations which are difficult to reach, and there is little reliable information available on the situation in those areas.

    

 Humanitarian response  

The ICRC is currently working jointly with the PMI (Pelang Merah Indonesia: Indonesian Red Cross) to assist victims of violence in Indonesia's trouble spots of West Timor and Aceh. Soon after violence erupted in early 1999 in the Moluccas, the ICRC and the PMI provided medical care and food as well as material relief to people displaced by the violence in Ambon (South Maluku). Once the situation had stabilized, these activities were handed over to the local authorities and NGOs. With the spread of the disturbances to North Maluku Province at the end of 1999, the ICRC sought to establish its presence there in order to assist the victims of the violence.

    

 Surveys under way     

The ICRC/PMI team is presently endeavouring to gain access to areas of North Maluku in order to evaluate the humanitarian needs created by the recent violence. This first phase of activity is being carried out in that province because it was the scene of the most recent violence and humanitarian needs there are not as well covered as in South Maluku. Working with the PMI from their office in Ternate, the capital of North Maluku, the ICRC/PMI team is in permanent contact with the civilian and military authorities in order to be kept up-to-date on the security situation and on the possibilities of access to further areas of the province. In the meantime, it is working to strengthen the operational capacity of the PMI, is exploring transport possibilities, and is establishing a logistical set-up that will enable a rapid response to needs identified in its assessments.

 First findings  

Since its arrival in Ternate in late March, an ICRC team made up of medical, relief and logistic personnel has worked jointly with the PMI to assess the situation of displaced persons in Ternate, in the neighbouring islands of Tidore and Makian, and in nearby Jailolo on the coast of Halmahera. The ICRC/PMI assessments of these areas found that the displaced are, thanks to their own coping mechanisms and the food assistance provided by the government and NGOs, maintaining relatively good nutritional levels. On the other hand, in response to identified needs, the joint Red Cross team will provide non-food assistance in the form of family parcels, including items of clothing, basic household utensils and hygiene articles. From the ICRC stock in Surabaya (Java), 7,000 family parcels are at present being transferred to Ternate to facilitate their rapid transport to parts of North Maluku. A first distribution plan will target nearly 5,700 families (25,671 people) in the areas of Ternate, Jailolo, Makian, Sahu subdistrict and Tidore. These areas, however, are only a tiny fraction of the region, and the fact that they are more easily accessible, relatively speaking, means that they may not be representative of the situation in the more isolated areas of the province. In the next few days the ICRC/PMI team plans to carry out a survey in certain areas of Halmahera island, a nd make preparations for additional distributions of assistance when needed.

The PMI has been put forward by the Indonesian government to coordinate the humanitarian assistance to the Moluccas, where a number of international and national humanitarian organizations are present. The nature of the violence makes it essential that the assistance be distributed in a neutral and impartial manner, to prevent the organizations from being identified as favouring one group or the other.