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The battle to unite former child soldiers in peace

Categories: Articles:Peacemaking | Published: 26/04/2018 | Views: 578

BBC news reports how, Peace Provocateurs, an organisation set up to support child soldiers following the end of Indonesia's worst religious conflict, is working to maintian the fragile peace there and to bring comfort to the former child soldiers involved in the conflict.  


The Reverend Jacky Manuputty is still haunted by the blessings he gave Christian fighters during the conflict with Muslims on the Indonesian island of Ambon, almost 20 years ago. 
"I never carried a machine gun, but my thoughts, my prayers, my blessings destroyed more than a gun ever could. By blessing them, they came to believe that this was a holy war".   Hundreds of child soldiers are believed to have taken part in Indonesia's worst religious conflict, which started in 1999.

More than 5,000 people were killed in the dispute and over half a million were displaced.

When a fragile peace deal was reached in 2002, many young people were left living in communities deeply divided along religious lines, traumatised by their past.
Mr Manuputty is determined to help those whose lives were shattered by the conflict and give them hope for the future.

Alongside local imam Abidin Wakano, he has set up an initiative called Peace Provocateurs which brings together people from both sides of the religious divide.
Among the young men they helped are Christian Ronald Regang, 28, and Muslim Iskandar Slameth, 31, who both fought on the front line. Ronald was only 10 when he first killed for his community, and Iskandar just 13.
"I killed with a home-made pistol. I shot them at close range," recalls Ronald. "We paraded the corpses around as it gave us the strength to fight harder."

Iskandar agrees. "We were very sadistic," he says, adding that he became a "mini-jihadi" to avenge his cousin's killing.

As Ronald puts it: "We were viewed as little gods during the conflict, but once it was over people didn't want to be around us. Other children were told 'Don't hang out with the fighter children, they were the ones that destroyed Ambon'.

"But in my heart I thought, if we didn't fight back then would you be still alive? Would there even be Christians still here? I don't know why people thought so badly of us after the conflict. It really hurt me, but we had to move forward through the pain."
Mr Manuputty believes he can help young men like Ronald because he empathises with their guilt and conflicting sense of identity.

"To gain his heart I tried to convince him that he will get equal respect," the priest explains.

Mr Manuputty was able to take Ronald out of Ambon to Java and the Philippines to speak about his traumatic experiences, and to try to help others understand more about children forced to fight and kill.

"By allowing them to lead in the peace activities we give them that respect again. Now they become heroes again as peacemakers," Mr Manuputty says.

The peace in the Maluku Islands (Mollucas) is fragile and has been tested a number of times since the peace treaty was signed.

"On the scale of one to nine, I will give it a six. Peace here is still fragile because it takes a long time to deal with healing trauma," he says. 
"We are still living in segregated areas. We take on people like Ronald, a former child soldier. We help build their character and confidence - to build a new generation for this island." Read on here
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