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Campaigning for peace

July 30, 2012

Communal tension in the Indonesian city of Kupang is reminiscent of the religious conflict that gripped the country in the late 90's. But what is different this time is that the young people are speaking out against it.

Image: AP

Charlie, whose real name is Carolus Loli, is one of the founders of the Peacemaker Community of Kupang (KOMPAK). KOMPAK is a civil society group whose objective is to promote solidarity and peace in Kupang, the provincial capital of the East Nusa Tenggara province in southeast Indonesia.

Founded in February 2011, KOMPAK is still in its infancy. "The group has grown fast," Charlie told DW. "Today, we have 10 members, tomorrow there will be 12. KOMPAK grows by word of mouth."

The youth group started off with 16 people - four from each of the four major religions practiced in Kupang - Catholicism, Protestantism, Islam and Hinduism. Charlie said their objective was to promote human rights and peace. KOMPAK, he insisted, was open to everyone, irrespective of their religious affiliations.

Former Indonesian President Suharto
Former President Suharto's last years in power were tumultuousImage: AP

Not again

Like most Indonesian cities with a majority Christian population, Kupang too suffered a great deal in widespread communal riots in the 1990s during the last years of Suharto's rule. The devastation caused by the riots still haunts the people of Kupang. And they don't want to experience it again.

Kupang is predominantly Protestant, but most of the region has a Catholic majority. There are several mosques and Hindu temples in the city as well.

Pastor Helmy Sailana, another founding member of KOMPAK, told DW that he had visited several mosques, churches and temples, and everyone, he said, wanted peace in Kupang.

Right to worship

One of the main triggers of the new protests was related to the construction of mosques in the city. Such permits for the construction of mosques are difficult to get in Kupang - something radical Muslim groups have been protesting.

To resolve the conflict, KOMPAK offers its services to help Muslim communities get mosque permits.

Indonesian Muslim men protesting in Jakarta
Most Indonesians are against communal violenceImage: AP

"Every community has the right to worship," said Sailana, who believed the conflict in the late 1990s was also caused by similar provocations.

Countrywide peace building

KOMPAK is attracting many students. The group regularly organizes inter-religious seminars and workshops in schools and universities where it discusses ideas for peace building in Kupang and the rest of Indonesia. Last year, KOMPAK joined a network of Indonesian peace groups and began to work closely with them to promote nationwide tolerance.

Author: Edith Koesoemawiria
Editor: Shamil Shams