Tue, 10 Oct 2000

Eight bodies discovered after clash in Saparua

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Residents of riot-torn Sirisori village in Saparua Island, Central Maluku, found eight bodies on Monday, consisting of three soldiers and five civilians, in the debris left behind by a clash on Sunday, a church official said.

The Klasis Maluku Protestant Church's secretary, P.G. Manopo, said in Saparua that the five civilians were all clad in Muslim outfits and were identified later as members of Laskar Jihad (the Jihad Force).

Manopo, however, failed to give any further explanation and no Laskar Jihad contacts could be reached for confirmation.

The bodies were found following a violent communal clash between Sirisori villagers and residents of the neighboring village of Ulath.

Manopo said the incident, which occurred in the no-man's-land demarcating the two villages had initially left three Ulath residents dead and three other people injured.

On Sunday evening, or several hours after the clash, the secretary of the Indonesian Ulemas' Council (MUI)'s Maluku chapter, Malik Selang, said that his organization was still tracing the whereabouts of five Muslims missing in the affray.

He added that the disturbance had left at least five Muslim residents seriously injured.

The Pattimura Military Command spokesman Capt. P.A.J. Heri, said he had not yet received any reports about the death of three soldiers but said that three soldiers from his command had suffered serious wounds in the clash.

According to Manopo, the flow of refugees from Sirisori has significantly increased in recent days, following public anxiety over a military sweeping operation in their ravaged village.

Hundreds of residents, he said, had already fled the village to seek shelter in the nearby forest or the Saparua district office and that the number of refugees had been continuously growing from day to day.

"Most of them are forced to go deep into the forest to avoid the military's sweeping (against armed residents)," Manopo said.

The locals, he explained, had decided to abandon their property in the village since such military operations, which have been ongoing since late last month, often turned into violent attacks, leaving the village residents traumatized.

Sweeping operations are mainly held to disarm local residents and apprehend suspected rioters.

On Monday, the sweeping operation claimed the life of one resident, who was reportedly on his way into the forest to join the other refugees.

The situation in Saparua Island remained tense throughout the rest of Monday and rumors had it that dozens of attackers were following in the rear guard of the sweeping operation.

Separately, the Ambon-based Civil Emergency Post disclosed that 192 combined military personnel and another 40 Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) members had been deployed to Saparua island on Sunday morning.

The military reinforcements were deployed to conduct a sweeping operation, while the police personnel were dispatched to protect Sirisori village from armed attackers.

However, the Brimob personnel on Monday were still in Saparua, about five kilometers from Sirisori village.

The emergency post's spokesman Agus Soukkotta quoted Saparua Military Commander Col. A. Siswanto as saying that the military wanted the postponement of the Brimob deployment to the village until the completion of the sweeping operation so as to avoid possible firefights between the military and police due to limited means of communication between the two sides.

Local residents, however, opposed the authorities' plan for military reinforcements to guard Sirisori village, demanding instead that the Brimob personnel be assigned to guard their village.

The residents accused the military of having taken sides in the conflict.

Last month alone, attacks on Sirisori razed at least 340 houses and one church. Only 15 houses were left undamaged. (49/lup)