Sat, 06 Mar 1999

Bomb blasts shatter brief calm in Ambon

JAKARTA (JP): A series of bomb blasts, reported near the downtown Silo Church in Ambon on Friday, shattered the calm in the riot-torn Maluku capital, where almost two months of communal clashes have claimed at least 166 lives.

Marlene Petta, a lawyer at the Maranatha riot monitoring post, told The Jakarta Post by phone from Ambon, that Muslims living in the nearby area of Sobali started throwing Molotov cocktails at the church at 8:30 p.m. local time.

"Hundreds of people then gathered outside the church but troops rushed into the area and dispersed the crowd."

She said there were no casualties and the situation was calm but tense.

"There were three explosions near the church as we were about to have dinner," Edwin Paliama, a staff member at the Silo Church, told the Post.

He confirmed that dozens of marines were dispatched to the scene.

Yusuf Elly, a Muslim activist at the Al Fatah Mosque, denied Molotov cocktails were thrown.


"They were only firecrackers. The situation is now under control," Yusuf told the Post.

The deployed marines are the advance group of 2,000 reinforcement troops sent to Ambon by Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Gen. Wiranto on Wednesday.

The arrival of the marines brought a semblance of calm to Ambon on Thursday after weeks of horrendous clashes between Muslims and Christians.

Authorities said more than 400 others were injured since religious clashes erupted in the province in mid-January.

They also said 3,575 houses have been set on fire in the weeks of violence which have caused Rp 500 billion in material losses.

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)

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