Mon, 16 Jun 2003

Mines, ammunition found in Maluku

Azis Tunny, The Jakarta Post, Ambon, Maluku

A group of soldiers from the Army's 11/BS Airborne Unit in Ambon discovered six active mines, hand grenades, a gun and more than 50 rounds of ammunition in an area near a Roman Catholic church in Ahuru, Sirimau district.

They did not know who owned the arms but said they would carry out a search because they believed more arms and ammunition were still hidden in the village, following recent sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians.

Chief of the airborne unit Maj. Harris Sarjana said that the discovery on Friday of the arms followed the finding by a villager of a high-intensity explosive on Thursday near the area. He reported it to a nearby military post in the district.

"We shall continue the search for other arms that may have been hidden after the sectarian conflict," he said, adding that he would request a special team defuse the mines.

He called on residents of the village to remain alert for possible explosives or mines that could explode if stepped on.

Harris alleged that many people from the two conflicting factions still held arms through fear of fresh violence.

"Locals should cooperate with security authorities in anticipation of possible new conflict and we shall provide protection for those who report civilians holding firearms, explosives or other weapons," he said.

In addition, people in Ambon Bay district also found two hand- made explosives, the ownership of which has not yet been claimed.

Separately, chief of the Pattimura Military Command overseeing Maluku Maj. Gen. Agustadi Sasongko Purnomo called on locals to hand over any arms they might be holding to help avoid new violence on the eve of the gubernatorial election.

"The local military will seize illegal arms kept by anyone, and those who refuse to hand over their arms to security authorities will be taken to court," he said.

The local police and military plan to deploy 3,000 personnel to maintain security and order on the eve of the gubernatorial election, as well as to avoid new conflict in the province.

The conflict, which has brought devastation to the province over the last three years, is related to the governorship, as the last governor, Saleh Latuconsina, whose tenure ended last September, was a Muslim.