Poison pen letters fuelling discord in E. Java

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

Three letters fanning racist and religious feelings are making the rounds amid fears that they could prove explosive among rural folk

POISON-PEN letters are circulating here and in other parts of Java, touching on sensitive ethnic and religious issues which analysts say could raise political temperatures on Indonesia’s most densely-populated island even further.

The Straits Times understands that three different letters, all unsigned, were distributed in recent weeks in mosques, churches and public places, particularly in the outlying areas of East Java.

Mr Choirul Anam, the youth leader of the traditionalist Nadhlatul Ulama (NU) in East Java, said that the organisation had already alerted ethnic Chinese minority leaders and several Islamic, Christian and Catholic groups to the letters and warned them that they were aimed at fanning ethnic and religious sentiments.

“They can wreak havoc because the poorly educated in our villages might just be gullible enough to believe the contents,” he told The Straits Times.

He said that the letters are connected with the recent spate of at least 180 murders in East Java and were aimed at sowing further dissent between pribumis and the ethnic Chinese and between religious groups.

“The overall objective is to generate more instability. The starting point was killing sorcerers. Then the target shifted to Muslim clerics and NU supporters. Now we are slowly moving towards ethnic and religious issues which are the most explosive.”

The first of the three letters calls on the Christian and Catholic community in Indonesia to be careful of a resurgence of Muslim extremism, which it alleges is being supported by the Habibie-linked Association of Muslim Intellectuals.

Pastor Alexander Gunwan of the Baptist Church of Christ in Banyuwangi, 300 km from here, said that he had received the letter, which also calls on Christians to step up their evangelical drive.

“I was shocked. It wanted us to step up our efforts to Christianise Indonesia,” he said.

The letter also calls for former Vice-President Try Sutrisno to replace the incumbent President B.J. Habibie.

Mr Choirul said that the other two letters were directed principally at the ethnic Chinese.

One calls for the set-up of a Chinese party to challenge and regain control of the economy, which is now being dominated by pribumis through cooperatives.

It said that party had the support of leading ethnic Chinese businessmen such as Mr Muhammad “Bob” Hasan and Mr Prajogo Pangestu.

The third letter blames the May riots and rapes of Chinese women on the ethnic Chinese.

Political observers believe that the letters are part of an on-going psychological warfare being waged in the heartlands of Java.

A Jakarta-based analyst said similar tactics were used in the mid-1960s when political unrest hit Indonesia, but the strategy now seemed more organised and sophisticated.

He said: “Different parts of Java have a mix of sensitivities that include fear of the occult, communists, ideological competition and ethnicity and religion.

“Whoever is masterminding the violence has been very clever in pushing different ‘buttons’ of sensitivity in different places to keep the wheel of violence moving and spreading out. The aim is to exacerbate tensions and create more chaos.”

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