Mon, 07 Aug 2000

Calls for int'l troops in Maluku brushed aside

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Local officials here brushed aside calls for international troops to be sent to the province, saying the overall situation was improving and security forces had confiscated and destroyed weapons seized from the warring parties.

"Just give us more time, as of now we are still optimistic that we can handle the situation. We don't yet need international troops here," Governor Saleh Latuconsina said on Saturday.

"We'll accept it if the international community wants to give us more humanitarian aid or some suggestions on how to solve the sectarian violence," Latuconsina said after witnessing the destruction of scores of weapons confiscated from locals.

Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. I Made Yasa was of the same opinion, saying the situation in the area was improving.

"It's not necessary for them (international forces) to come in, just see in the next few months," Yasa said at the same event.

During a series of weapons sweeps since the implementation of a state of civil emergency on June 27, the Maluku authorities have confiscated 32 Army-standard rifles, including several AK 47s, SMR Bren MK 3s and Rugers, and 278 homemade rifles.

They also confiscated four rocket launchers, hundreds of grenades and 3,070 rounds of ammunition.

A military officer said most of the weapons were standard military equipment stolen during an attack on a police post in Tantui last month.

"Of the 823 standard rifles stolen, 115 of them have been retrieved by us and we will continue our raids to get the rest of them," the one-star general said.

Separately, Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Firman Gani said some of the confiscated weapons originally belonging to the police would be returned to officers.

Firman also said approximately 10 percent of his 2,300 officers had failed to report to police headquarters. He could not explain why these officers had not returned to their posts.

"I don't know their location, whether they have deserted or joined the rioters. There are also some who have asked to be transferred out of the area," Firman said.

Also on Saturday, the acting governor of North Maluku, Abdul Muhyi Effendie, witnessed the destruction of confiscated weapons, including 23 standard rifles, including two M-16s, 4,279 homemade rifles, 2,278 homemade bazookas and 1,097 detonators.

"Most of the weapons were made in the Philippines and confiscated mostly during raids on passengers at sea ports," North Maluku Military Commander Col. Sutrisno said.

Waai victims

In the ravaged village of Waai, 19 more people reportedly died on Saturday and Sunday, bringing the death toll since Tuesday's attack on the village to 55.

Most of the latest victims died of gunshot wounds, severe cold and starvation.

"Most of them were seniors and children," Rev. Jambormias of the Maluku Protestant Church in Waai said on Sunday.

The number of casualties will likely rise as many Waai residents are still trapped in ravines on Salahutu mountain, located about a kilometer from the village.

Security forces have attempted since Wednesday to evacuate a total of 6,224 residents of Waai village, about 30 kilometers south of Ambon, from their shelters in the ravines to safer ground in the neighboring villages of Suli and Paso.

Waai has been the target of a series of attacks in recent weeks, reportedly the work of armed locals and some military personnel.

According to data gathered from Gideon Church in Waitatiri, Suli village, so far 3,776 Waai refugees have come down from the mountain. Some 3,600 are in Paso while the rest are sheltering in Kampung Lateri in Suli village.

"Around 1,000 more Waai residents are still up on the mountain waiting to be evacuated," Jambormias said.

Approximately 30 people are being treated at Halong Naval Base and Negri Lama Hospital for dehydration and gunshot wounds, said Ristianto, a doctor from the emergency team handling the evacuation.

Witnesses said it was normally a 10-hour walk from Waai to Suli. "But under these rough conditions and heavy rain these refugees can walk for days without food or drink," a local journalist said.

Many of the refugees attempting to reach Suli must make the journey with badly injured hands and feet, and some people are found attempting to reach Suli bleeding from deep cuts inflicted by tree branches and rocks, Ristianto said.

In downtown Ambon, gunfire and bomb explosions continued to be heard coming from Trikora, Urimesing and Diponegoro late on Sunday. (dja/49/edt)