Ending the armed conflict in Indonesia (North Maluku)


The deployment of Indonesian security forces to North Maluku ended the intercommunal conflict and prevented further fighting.

The outbreak of armed conflict in Central Sulawesi and Maluku after the fall of Suharto in 1998 served to heighten intercommunal tensions in other diverse provinces of Indonesia. In North Maluku, 85 per cent of the population was Muslim and 15 per cent were Christian, but divisions between indigenous tribes and migrant populations added many more layers of complexity to this dynamic. Despite a history of relatively peaceful coexistence, relations between these communities had worsened over preceding decades due to disputes over transmigration and the distribution of political power. In 1999, a scheduled programme of decentralisation began in North Maluku, altering administrative boundaries and changing the political structure of the province. These changes caused much uncertainty and inspired fierce competition between communities over the location of district capitals, allocations of resources, and administrative appointments.1 On 18 August 1999, fighting erupted between the Kao (indigenous to the island) and Makianese (relocated in 1975 due to a feared volcanic eruption) ethnic groups in North Maluku on the same day that a new subdistrict was supposed to be inaugurated. For over a month, militia from these groups fought each other and burned down villages across the area, forcing 15,000 people from their homes. Violence rapidly spread across North Maluku, taking on increasingly religious overtones. For the most part, the conflict represented efforts by one militia or another to clear minority populations from towns and villages, but also featured massacres and forced conversions, particularly after a range of radical Islamic armed groups entered the fray on behalf of the Muslim communities of North Maluku.2

The Government of Indonesia attempted to prevent the conflict, deploying troops in an interpositionary location between the Kao and Makianese while prominent civil society leaders attempted to mediate a peaceful resolution to the crisis. Ongoing failures to end the fighting led the president to declare a state of emergency on 27 June 2000, deploy considerable numbers of troops, and impose a naval blockade on the entire region.3 This succeeded in ending the fighting – there were no more documented incidents after the declaration – but shootings and bombings remained a feature of North Malukan life for years. Approximately 3,000 people were killed in the conflict and over 100,000 more were forced from their homes.4

1 Christopher R. Duncan. “The Other Maluku: Chronologies of Conflict in North Maluku.” Indonesia, Vol 80. (2005) pp.59-60

2 Christopher R. Duncan. Violence and Vengeance: Religious Conflict and its Aftermath in Eastern Indonesia. (Ithaca: Cornell, 2013) pp.90-9

3 Ibid. p.102

4 Smith Alhadar. “The forgotten war in North Maluku.” Inside Indonesia, No. 63. (2000) Available at: https://www.insideindonesia.org/The-forgotten-war-in-North-Maluku (Accessed 10/12/2021)

Start Year


End Year



North Maluku, Indonesia

UN Regional Group


Type of Conflict

Horizontal (non-state) intrastate conflict

Type of Initiative

Military intervention

Main Implementing Organisation(s)

The Government of Indonesia, local people and organisations




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