Fri, 19 Mar 1999

Ambon refugees stranded in Taliabu

JAKARTA (JP): More than 100 people fleeing sectarian violence in the Maluku capital of Ambon have been stranded in West Taliabu district, North Maluku regency, for more than a week after their boat developed engine trouble.

They were en route on the Harapan Muda from Kairatu in Central Maluku to their hometown of Baubau, Southeast Sulawesi.

Antara quoted sources at the North Maluku Military Command as saying the 105 passengers -- more than half aged from six years to 15 years -- were stranded on March 10 when the boat's engine broke down. They are now sheltered at the Taliabu Military Command.

"They are in good health and have received food supplies from local offices and traders," according to First Lt. Hertoyo.

"We don't know when they will be able to set sail again."

Thousands of people have been displaced following clashes between Muslims and Christians in the provinces. Some officials estimate 60,000 Muslims -- many originally from Southeast Sulawesi and South Sulawesi -- have fled the unrest which has left about 200 people dead.

Ambon was reportedly calm on Thursday.

In a dialogue held on Thursday with local community figures in Buru Utara Timur subdistrict, Central Maluku, Head of the Armed Forces (ABRI) special team of officers from Maluku, Maj. Gen. Suaidy Marasabessy called on ABRI members to be proactive in quelling the unrest.

"Don't just wait for orders," he said as quoted by Antara.

He said ABRI members found to allow violence to go unchecked would face harsher penalties than those who took action but violated procedures, Marasabessy said.

Marasabessy said an Army captain, identified as MK, arrested on Tuesday was not a provocateur and was only arrested for violating procedures.

On Tuesday, Antara reported that a plainclothes Army captain from local military headquarters fired warning shots as residents attempted to extinguish fire engulfing houses near a mosque.

The agency also reported the man was seen earlier provoking Muslims in the area. The man allegedly told Muslims the fire was started by Christians.

Shots fired by the captain provoked panic among residents.

Marasabessy was also at the scene and seized the gun from the captain, currently detained by military police in Ambon.

Separately, students in the North Sumatra capital of Medan and Central Java's capital, Semarang, staged street demonstrations on Wednesday protesting the spiraling violence in Ambon. (swe/21/har)