Mon, 26 Jun 2000

Ambon now resembles battlefield

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Ambon began to resemble a battlefield on Sunday, as violence entered its fifth consecutive day with security forces seemingly powerless to stop it.

Another 14 people died in the city as heavily armed rioters continued their attack on several areas, causing thousands to flee to the mountains or to Halong Naval Base.

The attacks began at around 6 a.m., when an armed mass of people struck the areas of Perigilima, Batu Gantung Luar, Kampung Kolam and the border of Mardika and Batu Merah.

A police housing complex and detention center in Perigilima, as well as dozens of houses and a church were burned to the ground.

As a result two people died en route to Halong Naval Hospital, four more in Dr. Haulussy Hospital and eight others in Al Fatah Hospital.

The executive secretary of the Indonesian Ulemas Council coordinating post in Maluku, Malik Selang, claimed many were shot by snippers.

"Many from our group have been killed by snippers hiding in tall buildings on the other side," he said adding that Abdullah Sima-sima Sohilauw, 36, an Al-Fatah elementary school teacher was killed by snipper fire Sunday afternoon.

At about the same time an attack was also launched from Jasirah Leihutu on the areas of Mangga Dua Bawah, Nanian, Negri Lama, Paso and Galala.

The latest casualties brought the death toll in the renewed fighting, which first erupted on Wednesday, to at least 52. Around 200 others have been injured.

As of Sunday evening, residents said gunfire and explosions were still being heard in several parts of the city.

"We are terrified as calls of war against Christians have been broadcast through mosques," Maya, a local resident, claimed.

Hundreds of refugees from Mangga Dua Bawah and Perigilima sought refuge in the gubernatorial residence in Mangga Dua on Sunday.

"I already asked Pak Max Tamaela to take strong repressive action against the rioters. (But) He said soldiers were hesitating in taking firm action as they fear legal charges maybe brought against them in the future if they open fire on mobs".

"I told him (Maluku Military Chief Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela) that, as a governor, I was fully responsible for this decision," Governor Saleh Latuconsina said.

Latuconsina also accused Brig. Gen. (ret) Rustam Kastor of being a provocateur.

"He's the one who is creating this mess. He's always actively attending meetings or mass tabligh akbar prayers," he said, adding that he had asked the new police and military chiefs to investigate and arrest Kastor soon.

A local Catholic priest Agus Ulayana told The Jakarta Post that the situation had simply gotten worse.

"Everything is paralyzed here, communications have been cut and no transportation is available," Agus said on Sunday.

The priest also said Ambon Police chief Brig. Gen. I Dewa Astika and Max Tamaela had been sheltering in Manise Hotel since Saturday night.

Separately, Ambon Archbishop Tetol told the Post that the church had sent a letter to United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Saturday asking for UN intervention.

"Everything is unclear here, most Christians have fled while Muslims are using sophisticated weapons. We cannot confirm how many people have died. It's too dangerous to go out," he said.

Meanwhile in Jakarta, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) strongly rejected allegations made by North Maluku Council Deputy Speaker Abdulrahim Fabanyo that it was involved in espionage under the pretext of humanitarian assistance.

Abdulrahim claimed the ICRC had also rejected a joint health team involving the military and Ministry of Health.

In a statement made by the deputy head of its delegation in Indonesia, Phillipe Guinand, the ICRC said its activities in North Maluku were conducted in close cooperation with the Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) and strictly followed the principle of impartiality.

"The whole joint PMI and ICRC operations have been closely coordinated with local military and civilian authorities, who have been kept informed about its objectives and results on a regular basis."

The statement also noted that the PMI and ICRC had responded to requests from local officials in Ternate to deliver needed supplies to health structures in Galela and Tobelo.

It also noted that on Sunday the Red Cross assisted local health officials by transporting a doctor from Ternate to Tobelo on a chartered helicopter.(49/edt/dja)