Tue, 30 May 2000

44 dead in fresh N. Maluku violence

AMBON, Maluku (JP): The unabated bloodshed in North Maluku continued on Monday when at least 44 people were killed in a predawn attack on two villages on Halmahera island.

Chief of the Pattimura Military Command overseeing Maluku, Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela, confirmed the incident which occurred in Makete and Duma, Galela district, saying that hundreds were injured in the incident.

"I've received a report from the North Maluku sector commander Col. Sutrisno that 44 died and I've ordered troops from Jailolo district and Marine personnel from Morotai to secure the villages," Tamaela said by telephone on Monday night.

The attack on what were known as predominantly Christian villages took place at about 5 a.m. local time by an armed mob which entered the area from the sea and surrounding hills, Tamaela said.

"The attackers mostly come from Ternate, and we're investigating all the facts and the possibility of the alleged involvement of Laskar Jihad or security members (in the attack) here."

Makete and Duma are located less than a kilometer from the shores of the Halmahera Sea.

Other estimates put the death toll at 50.

The deputy chief of the Galela-based Synode Masehi Injil Halmahera Church, Rev. Biso, said that apart from 50 dead, 102 were injured.

The injured were taken to Bethesda Hospital, about 40 kilometers away.

"Most of the victims were injured due to bomb shrapnel and gunshot wounds. Houses also were burned and many died in their sleep," Biso said.

The attack was almost identical to another dawn attack on May 25 in Mamuya village, also in Galela, which killed 34 people.

Biso claimed that residents desperately needed protection but were afraid to turn to security forces which they suspected assisted in the attacks.

"The people are desperate. Do those attackers wish to wipe out all Christians from the island? Who else can help us?" Biso charged.

Tamaela called for restraint and for the people to accept the assistance of security forces.

"Please do not reject security deployment here and lets face the rioters together," he said.

Community leaders in Galela and Tobelo districts have rejected the presence of security troops in the area because they felt that some of them were taking sides with one of the warring camps.

Tamaela could not hide his disappointment about the incident and said he asked Indonesian Military (TNI) chief of general affairs Lt. Gen. Djamari Chaniago to directly coordinate with Navy Chief of Staff Adm. Achmad Sutjipto to tighten the blockade in the waters of North Maluku.

"The troops here lack the ability to detect the attackers arriving from the sea ... We badly need backup from the navy on this."

Galela and Tobelo districts are known as trade centers on the islands.

Among the commercial estates is the Calvandis Banana Plantation in Galela, dubbed the biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia.

The area has been rocked by several riots but it was relatively calm in recent months.

The more than 18 months of sectarian violence in the Maluku islands have claimed more than 2,000 lives, forcing thousands of others to flee the province. (49/48/edt)