Sat, 25 Jan 2003

Ambon remains tense after attacks

Aziz Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon, Maluku

After the signing of the Malino peace agreement nearly one year ago, the situation in Ambon, capital of Maluku, remains tense following a series of attacks this month.

The latest attack occurred early Friday when an unidentified gunman attacked a Mitsubishi L-300 pickup in Galunggung, Batu Merah area in the city, injuring one passenger.

Rudy Formes, 27, sustained a severe injury to his right hand while the pickup driver, Ely Denmay, and another passenger, Yeri Pelmelay, emerged unscathed.

Ely said they were attacked while on their way home to Passo village, Baguala subdistrict, after delivering vegetables and other goods to Ambon market.

He said the gunman, who wore a black jacket, opened fire on their pickup on Jl. Sudirman and minutes later they heard more gunfire in front of and behind them.

"We kept driving until we reached the police station in Baguala to seek help," he said.

Ely also said they saw men in military uniform armed with M- 16s 30 meters from the shooting site but they did nothing.

Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Bambang Sutrisno said the police kept the car, which had bullet holes front and back. The police also collected several projectiles from the car for further investigation.

"We have yet to identify the attacker, but we will question military personnel who were on duty in a security post near the shooting site during the attack," he said.

Bambang expressed deep concern over the uncertain situation in the provincial capital, saying the series of attacks could disrupt the province's development program and political agenda.

He said the city was rocked by a bomb blast on Jan. 14 that was followed by the killing of Solifan Merthin, assistant to the intelligence officer of the government prosecutor's office, and the burning of a car belonging to the Amboina diocese in the city.

"So far the police have arrested 20 suspects in the incident," he said.

Another bomb also exploded near the security post in Mardika on Jan. 19 but caused no fatalities. City police arrested A. Khalik Kiliobas under suspicion of planting the bomb.

A day later, a sniper shot dead a villager in Waimase, Salahutu district. The police are still investigating the incident.

Bambang declined to identify which groups should be held responsible for the attacks, saying the police would tackle all law violations to help restore security and order in the province.

The central government has declined to lift the state of civil emergency imposed last July because of continuing tension following the signing on Feb. 11, 2002 of the Malino peace agreement by the conflicting parties to end the three-year bloody conflict that claimed more than 6,000 lives and displaced more than 750,000 people.

The peace accord has been put at stake following conflicting factions' reluctance to disband, a main point of the peace accord. Despite decreasing in number, armed militiamen of the Lasjkar Jihad are still in the province while the police and the Indonesian Military have yet to control local personnel who were allegedly involved in the conflict.