Mon, 08 Mar 1999

ABRI sends special team to Ambon

JAKARTA (JP): The Armed Forces (ABRI) dispatched 19 Maluku- born officers back to Ambon on Sunday in an effort to stop the communal bloodshed in the province's capital.

The dispatch of middle and high-ranking military personnel came after overnight incidents in which two people were reportedly killed.

Head of Al Fatah Mosque monitoring post Muhamad Nur Weno, said on Sunday a driver identified as Ridwan Hamid was stabbed to death in an ambush on Saturday afternoon, hours after a shooting spree near the fire-bombed Silo Church killed Denny Latti.

Press reports saying another 13 were killed remained unconfirmed while police could not be reached Sunday.

The ABRI special team comprises officers from the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad), Air Force Special Command (Paskhas) and marines. It is led by Maj. Gen. Suadi Mauarabessy, chief of the Wirabuana Military Command overseeing Sulawesi.

Minister of Defense and Security/ABRI Commander Gen. Wiranto said the team was expected to restore peace and order to the strife-torn Ambon during their one month mission.

"This team should be more capable of dealing with the conflict because of their charisma, influence and access to local people. They have psychological and ethnic ties with Ambon people," Wiranto said at the team's departure from Halim Perdanakusuma Airport.

Wiranto told the officers to establish solid working relationships with local military, police and all security personnel deployed in the troubled province.

ABRI has posted 4,000 troops from four different forces, mostly from Java, to Ambon since conflicts broke out on Jan. 19.

Separately, outgoing Maluku Police chief Col. Karyono said the presence of a huge number of military personnel "is not the right remedy", because of persistent hostility and vengeance between the conflicting groups.

"The most important thing is the good will of the opposing parties to stop clashing," he told Antara.

Wiranto denied the communal clashes stemmed from religious sentiments merely because they involved Muslim and Christian people.

"What is happening in Ambon is not a war between two religious groups, but a conflict between two groups of people which was instigated by a few provocateurs.

"There have been moves to incite the people to fight each other for a long time and ABRI failed to keep up with them."

He also warned politicians against exploiting the Ambon tragedy as a political commodity to discredit the government and the Armed Forces.

ABRI spokesman Maj. Gen. Sjamsul Ma'arif said a number of suspected provocateurs in the Ambon case had been identified. Sjamsul refused to unveil the suspects, saying that investigations are still underway.

"(There is) no need to disclose them right now. Their identities will remain secret until the investigation is completed," he said after attending the ceremony at the Halim Perdanakusuma Airport.

There were no reports of fresh clashes in Ambon on Sunday, but the city remained tense.

The head of Al Fatah Mosque monitoring post, Muhamad Nur Weno. and a staffer at the Silo Church, Els Appono, told The Jakarta Post that locals had resumed daily activities, despite fears of fresh outbreaks of violence.

Funerals for two victims of the Saturday clashes were conducted on Sunday. Weno said the body of 21-year-old driver Ridwan, was buried at Kebon Cengkeh cemetery in Batu Merah village. Appono said the body of 21-year-old student Denny was buried at Benteng cemetery.

Weno said Ridwan, a South Sulawesi native, was driving a Kijang van carrying eight people, when an unidentified group ambushed them at Galala village, three kilometers north of Ambon.

The mob set the car on fire and injured one of the passengers, while the remaining eight managed to escape. Weno said the whereabouts of one of the passengers remained unknown.

The wounded passenger, identified as Sumardi, is being treated at the Navy Hospital.

Sonny Mamusu of Kudamati General Hospital, said 13 victims of Saturday's shooting spree were in a stable condition but still required further medical treatment. He said six other victims were discharged.

Meanwhile, 1,000 people calling themselves the Ambon Muslim Community took to the streets demanding the resignation of the head of the Maluku religious affairs office, Hasyim Marasabessy. The demonstrators, mostly from Air Salobar district, marched along Jl. Sultan Baabullah and gathered at the Al Fatah Mosque.

They protested Hasyim's denial of reports that a number of Muslims were killed in an Ahuru mosque last week. The demonstrators threatened a holy war if the government fails to resolve the case in three days. (rms/amd)