Mon, 24 Apr 2000

Fresh Maluku clashes claims four lives

AMBON, Maluku (JP): At least four people were killed in the latest sectarian violence to rock Maluku on Sunday, just two days before the arrival of Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

A military officer given the task of guarding the Vice President, Lt. Col. Henky Naulan, was injured following the blast of a homemade bomb near Binaya during the unrest. He is receiving medial treatment at the local state hospital.

The Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela confirmed the report, but said order in Masohi on Seram island, some 80 kilometers east of here, had been gradually restored as of Sunday evening.

"There was an incident when I happened to be in Masohi for a funeral of a relative and while making preparations for the Vice President's visit," Tamaela said.

He added that he had ordered local military personnel to help police hunt for the alleged mastermind of the communal clash, the first since the 15-month conflict ended in March.

Head of Soahoku subdistrict Chris Tamaela identified one of the fatalities as Lodewijk Pattiwael, 28, who was shot in the head.

Witnesses said the conflict began soon after an Easter mass at Bethesda Church. A rival group burned two houses on Jl. H. Soulissa at 3 p.m. Hundreds of people came out of the church and went to the site of the arson, which is just one kilometer away.

Meanwhile in the North Maluku capital of Ternate, two assembled bombs exploded as thousands of Muslims grouped in Islamic Defenders Front (FPI) staged a rally to call for a jihad.

A group member identified as Suaib Muhiddin was killed and at least seven others were injured, Antara reported.

The first blast occurred at Ngara Lamo soccer field, killing Suaib, a refugee from the riot-torn subdistrict of Jailolo.

The second bomb exploded nearby as participants of the mass gathering were entering the North Maluku legislative council's compound. No casualties, however, were reported in the last blast.

A source at the Ternate General Hospital said only four people suffered minor injuries and were allowed to return home, while three others were receiving intensive medical treatment.

No one has claimed responsibility for the blasts. However, some witnesses said the bombs had been carried by people in the crowd and went off accidentally.

Abubakar Wahid, chief of the FPI's Jihad Force in North Maluku, said the gathering was held to unite Moslems in a common vision and mission. (49/edt)