Thu, 11 Mar 1999

Ambon rocked again, seven killed

JAKARTA (JP): Dozens of military personnel opened fire on clashing Muslims and Christians in the devastated Maluku capital of Ambon, killing at least seven people and wounding dozens more.

Witnesses and hospital staff spoke of ugly scenes when renewed violence, involving thousands of people armed with crude weapons, erupted almost simultaneously at six different sites in and around Ambon on Wednesday afternoon.

"At least 30 people suffering from gunshot wounds were admitted to hospital today, six of them are dead and five are in serious condition," Nurse Ida of the emergency ward of Haulusi General Hospital told The Jakarta Post by phone from Ambon.

She said the casualties were Robby Bonsaya, Ono Ratnoma, Joni Sahupala, Marli Latuheru, Jerry Siregar and Yosef Yotuwu.

Ida said one more died from gunshot wounds at Maluku Protestant Church, while at least six more people injured in the clashes were taken to Maluku Protestant Church Hospital.

"Etje Naulohi died from gunshot wounds at the Maluku Protestant Church Hospital," Jacky Manuputih, a local Christian activist, told the Post from Haulusi General Hospital.

The Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), however, said in a report made available to the Post on Wednesday night there were only three confirmed deaths.

The report identified the victims as Robby, Jerry and Etje. Robby died from gunshot wounds to the head.

One marine, Ivan, whose rank was not identified, suffered an arrow wound in Air Mata Cina area, the report said.

The PGI said clashes erupted in at least six areas: near the Silo Church, in Benteng Atas, Urimessing, Mardika market, Tantui and Ahuru.

Jacky said the victims were shot in two separate clashes between Muslims and Christians in Air Mata Cina and Benteng Atas on Tuesday.

"Etje, Robby, Joni and Siregar were shot in Air Mata Cina, while the remaining three were shot in Benteng Atas."

Ronny Lewerisa, a resident of Benteng Atas, said that troops opened fire to disperse Muslims and Christians battling with Molotov cocktails and crude weapons.

He said the first clash broke out at around 3 p.m. in Benteng Atas. Shortly afterward, dozens of marines were rushed to the area to control the situation.

"But they then left and a second clash erupted an hour later. Dozens of Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) troops rushed to the area and opened fire on residents," Ronny told the Post.

Clashes were continuing into the night, he said.

Military authorities could not be contacted for confirmation.

Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Gen. Wiranto dispatched one battalion of marines and two battalions of Kostrad troops from Java last week to reinforce local security personnel.

Antara reported dozens of houses were set on fire in Benteng Atas, causing residents to flee and seek refuge at the Santa Maria Bintang Laut Church.

The news agency reported the special military task force sent by Wiranto to Ambon on Sunday will set up a communication center in the riot-torn city.

Wiranto dispatched a high-ranking team of 19 local-born military officers, led by Maj. Gen. Suaidy Marasabessy, who is also chief of Wirabuana Regional Military Command, to Ambon in an effort to stop the communal bloodshed.

Police said on Wednesday at least 172 people have been killed since clashes between Muslims and Christians first erupted in mid-January. More than 450 others were injured.

Police said they were questioning 23 people suspected of instigating the riots.

They said former Maluku governor Dicky Watimena and local legislator Habib Ali bin Taher had been questioned.

Wednesday's clashes came only a day after local religious leaders called for calm and peace in Ambon.

Ambon Bishop Mandagi, head of Maluku chapter of Indonesian Council of Ulemas (MUI) Hasanussy, Rev. Sammy Titalei of the Maluku Protestant Church and intellectuals from Pattimura University met with Suaidy on Tuesday.

Thousands of people have taken refuge in mosques, churches, military facilities and other government buildings in Ambon while thousands of others have fled the city on ships for their hometowns in Sulawesi.

The violence was initially sparked by a dispute between a Muslim migrant and a local Christian driver of a public minibus on Jan. 19.

It quickly degenerated into full-scale riots involving members of both communities. (byg/emf)