Wed, 17 May 2000

Fresh violence erupts in Ambon, two dead

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Fresh clashes flared up here on Tuesday following a car accident in which a teenager in Paso subdistrict was killed.

The violence, which was continuing as of 8 p.m. local time, has left two people killed and 11 others injured. The secretary- general of the province's Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) chapter, Malik Selang, said Andi, 25, and Hasan, 23, died from gunshot wounds on the border between Batu Merah and Mardika districts.

Most of the victims were hit by stray bullets as police opened fire to disperse the warring groups. The police dispatched four armored vehicles to help restore order.

The conflicting groups armed themselves with traditional weapons as well as homemade bombs and grenades in the clashes, which occurred during a blackout.

Neither Maluku Military Commander Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela, Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Dewa Astika or Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina were available for comment. They are in Jakarta discussing the situation in Maluku, especially issues relating to the arrival of the Laskar Jihad (Jihad Force) Muslim group.

There was no confirmation on whether Jihad Force members took part in the clashes.

A local community leader said the jihad volunteers, who came from Java, have been camped in Galunggung subdistrict in Batu Merah since their arrival early this month. He said explosions had been often heard coming from the area over the past couple of nights.

Witnesses said the clashes erupted after a truck carrying military troops hit and killed 18-year-old Nyong Ferdinandus in the hamlet of Larier in Paso. Local residents tried to chase the truck, but soldiers inside the vehicle fired warning shots to keep them at bay.

The news about Ferdinandus' death spread quickly and a group of people from Mardika gathered to contemplate retaliation. At about the same time, people in Batu Merah assembled in anticipation of a possible attack from their enemies.

At around 3 p.m. local time, the crowd in Batu Merah pelted stones at a passing police van carrying seven personnel.

"We were on the way from a social gathering at Tantui when we passed through Galunggung and Batu Merah," First Lt. Noke Sahumena, one of passengers in the van, said.

The driver, Capt. Joseph Sainyakit, was hit on the head by a stone and lost control of the steering wheel. The car hit the sidewalk and turned upside down.

Capt. Joseph Sainyakit, 46, and Anton Patty, 50, a civil servant who works for the police, were taken to Maluku Protestant Church Hospital and Dr. Haulussy General Hospital.

Events became uncontrollable as people from the two warring camps faced each other head-to-head at the border of Batu Merah and Mardika. (48/49/edt)