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Indonesia Sends Troops to Quell Sectarian Violence in Maluku Islands


Indonesia has sent hundreds of troops to its eastern Maluku Islands to quell violence that broke out between Christians and Muslims, leaving at least six people injured and dozens of buildings torched.

Local police say clashes broke out Tuesday, after a Christian school teacher was accused by a Muslim student of insulting Islam.

Area has history of trouble

Sidney Jones, the International Crisis Group's South East Asian director, says the area where the fighting erupted has a recent history of trouble.

"It's an area that's erupted in differed ways, several times in the last two years, including a police army shoot-out," Jones said. "It's got a history of problems going back to the height of the violence, but it's difficult to see whether this is going to bring in people from outside."

Muslim-Christian clashes broke out in the Maluku Islands in 1999, lasting until 2001. Around 10,000 people were killed, tens of thousands of others were displaced and thousands of homes destroyed.

The violence, which pitted neighbor against neighbor in the formally peaceful region, was only stopped after a peace pact was signed in 2002.

Although sporadic violence has broken out since then, the region remains generally calm.

Analyst says watch out for Islamic militants

Jones says, as long as Islamic militants based in Java Island stay out of the Maluku region, it is likely the area will stay peaceful.

"If it stays local, we're probably okay," Jones said. "And, one of the interesting things is that a lot of the people there specifically referred to the earlier conflict and not wanting to see it get out of hand. It's a case of whether or not some of these guys in Java take it as a green light to come in and scope things out. I think it'll probably be okay."

Police say the area remained largely quiet, Wednesday, with residents staying inside their homes, fearful of going out after Tuesday's clashes saw dozens of buildings torched, including two churches.

Indonesia has the world's largest population of Muslims, and - although the vast majority of the country practices Islam - in some parts of the eastern islands, Christians make up roughly half the population.

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