Thu, 03 Aug 2000

Fresh violence in Ambon, 11 injured

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Explosions erupted and gunshots rang out again in ravaged Ambon city on Wednesday, leaving at least 11 people injured.

Heavily armed rioters raided the areas of Trikora, Pohon Pule, Diponegoro and Paradise Tengah in downtown Ambon at about 11 a.m., causing panic among passersby, motorists and local residents.

According to data from Dr. Haulussy General Hospital, Bakti Rahayu and Al Fatah Islamic Hospital, most of the victims were suffering from bomb shrapnel and gunshot wounds. They were between 21 and 30 years old.

The incident was triggered by a road crash involving two cars at the end of Pohon Pule bridge at about 9 a.m. local time.

One of the drivers, Stevy Hattu, fled the scene in his car as soldiers near the site opened fire to stop the vehicle.

The 30-year-old driver said he did not want to stop as there was a group of armed men approaching the scene.

"I had to take a victim of the car crash to hospital. It would have been ridiculous if I had turned myself over to those rioters," he told reporters at Dr. Haulussy General Hospital.

Civil emergency executor Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina confirmed the incident later in the day.

Concerning the Waai incident which killed at least 23 people on Tuesday, Latuconsina said that the security troops were mistakenly guarding the abandoned village and its water supply, not the refugees.

"After visiting the village, I saw troops only guarding the empty border line of Waai, which is located about 28 kilometers south of Ambon.

"They were supposed to be securing the refugees up the hill, about one-kilometer from Waai," he said.

Latuconsina admitted that he had received information that a group of soldiers opened fire on the Waai refugees in Tuesday's fray.

The governor also visited the neighboring, predominantly Muslim, villages of Liang and Tulehu, whose residents reportedly attacked Waai at least three times last month.

"I warned the locals from Liang and Tulehu not to be easily provoked as it was clear that a third party was playing with the situation here. They said Waai people initiated the attack," Latuconsina said.

A company from the National Police's Mobile Brigade (Brimob) has been deployed to safeguard the Waai refugees.

Separately, an inventory team assessing damage in the arson attack on a 30-hectare compound of state Pattimura University in Poka and Rumahtiga villages on July 4 estimated on Wednesday that the losses could reach more than Rp 1 trillion.


Meanwhile, at least 130 police officers based in the province of Maluku have quit the ravaged area for safer places, including South Sulawesi, as interreligious conflicts have yet to recede.

Several officers interviewed by The Jakarta Post at Makassar Police Headquarters on Wednesday said they were just seeking safe places for their families.

"We want to return to Maluku after we are sure that our families are in safe places with their relatives here," First Sgt. Abdullah said. "But if permitted (by the commander), we'd prefer to live here. We wish we had the opportunity to be moved here," Abdullah said, claiming to represent his fellow officers.

He said there had been three deployments of police officers to the area and that the latest, made up of dozens of personnel, along with their families, arrived in Makassar on the Lambelu vessel on Tuesday.

South Sulawesi Police chief Brig. Gen. Sofyan Jacob confirmed the exodus, denying allegations that the policemen had escaped from duty.

"Some of them had official permits from their superiors. While others, with their families, had to rush to leave Maluku for security reasons. This is very understandable," Sofyan said.

The policemen handed over 67 guns they brought with them to the Makassar headquarters, he said.

He said coordination with Maluku Police Headquarters had been organized to arrange the return of the officers to Maluku. (49/edt/27/sur)