Mon, 10 Jan 2000

Maluku calm during Idul Fitri

JAKARTA (JP): Idul Fitri was generally solemnly celebrated over the weekend, including in the riot-torn Maluku capital of Ambon.

Thousands of people flocked to the Al Fatah Grand Mosque in the riot torn city on Saturday to perform their Idul Fitri morning prayers, braving rain that stopped just before the prayer began at 7.30 a.m. local time.

Security personnel, as well as armored vehicles and fire engines, were seen posted in conflict-prone areas across the town. In anticipation of a power failure, the state electricity company provided a diesel generator in the vicinity of the mosque.

Governor Saleh Latuconsina and devout Ambonese Muslims took part in the service, which was held in the city's largest mosque. Many congregation members who could not get a space in the packed mosque had to be content praying outside.

In his sermon, head of the Maluku chapter of the Indonesian Council of Ulemas R.R. Hasanusi called on Muslims in the province not to respond to any attempts at provocation.

He said Muslims should exercise self-restraint and promote it among their milieu, so that a feeling of safety and trust among the Maluku people could be established.

Hasanusi urged Muslims in the archipelagic province to brush aside animosity, desire for reprisal and past memories of the year-long bloodshed, which has so far claimed over 1,000 lives.

"The success of Muslims in the fasting month should be reflected in their daily life, particularly in the way we protect ourselves from provocation that is aimed at extending the conflict," he said.

After holding an open house on the first day of Idul Fitri at his official residence, President Abdurrahman Wahid spent the second day of the holiday in Padang, the capital of West Sumatra.

No Cabinet ministers accompanied the President, who was with his wife Sinta Nuriyah, on the one-day working visit to Padang, the first he has made since taking office last October. He held talks with civilian and military officials, traditional and religious leaders, as well as nongovernmental organization activists.

Acting Governor Dunija, speaker of the provincial legislature Arwan Kaspri and Bukit Barisan Military Commander Maj. Gen. Affandi greeted Abdurrahman at Tabing airport.

Affandi looked surprised and unprepared when Abdurrahman asked him about the latest security situation in Aceh, which also falls under his command.

"The situation in Aceh is looking good Pak," Affandi said.

Violence continued to rock the province of Aceh. A traffic police station in Panton Labu in North Aceh was hit by a Molotov cocktail bomb thrown by an unidentified group on Sunday, leaving policeman Second Sgt. Gunawan injured.

Aceh Police spokesman Lt. Col. Sayed Husaini, as quoted by Antara, blamed alleged separatist rebels for the afternoon incident. He said the attackers escaped on a motorcycle.

However, Sayed said in general that Aceh, the home to 4.2 million people, was under control.

The raid followed the overnight killing of two police personnel by armed rebels on the morning of Idul Fitri on Saturday.

Second Sgt. M. Afif and Second Sgt. M. Chodori reportedly died instantly after a group of five unidentified armed men sprayed bullets at the Simpang Ulim Police precinct in East Aceh at about 9:45 a.m., immediately after they had performed their Idul Fitri prayer.

Two other police personnel, Second Sgt. Meridian and Second Sgt. Feri Juniawan, survived the incident with gunshot wounds and were rushed to Langsa General Hospital.

"The bodies of M. Afif will be buried in Lubuk Pakam (North Sumatra) and M. Chodori in Magelang (Central Java)," police spokesman Sayed Husaini said.

After the shooting, the five attackers, who were brandishing long rifles, escaped from the scene, Sayed said.

A few hours later, at about 11:30 a.m., a fatal incident involving three officers occurred in Sigli, Aceh Pidie regency. Military member First Sgt. Syarifuddin was killed after he mistakenly identified two security personnel as suspected rebels.

"It was reported that Syarifuddin, who was not wearing uniform, was riding a motorbike when he encountered two men, who also happened to be plainclothes officers, riding a motorcycle from the opposite direction.

"He (Syarifuddin) got suspicious and ordered them to stop. If not, he said they'd be shot," Sayed said, adding that shortly afterwards the two military personnel got off the motorbike and opened fire, killing Syarifuddin.

They only learnt about Syarifuddin's identity later in the day.

"We cross-checked his identity data in Pidie Police Precinct," Sayed said.

The killings over the weekend brought the province's death toll in the first nine days of the new century to at least 10. (50/edt)