Wed, 21 Jun 2000

N. Maluku flares up again, over 100 die

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Resurgent violence has shattered weeks of calm in North Maluku, with the military putting the death toll on Tuesday at 108.

Outgoing Pattimura Military Commander overseeing Maluku Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela said that due to lack of communication and transportation in the remote area, it remained unknown whether the number of fatalities in the predawn attack on Duma village in Galela on Halmahera island on Monday would rise.

Other estimates put the death toll at 158, including six attackers.

"We have done our best to keep at bay thousands of rioters who forced their way into Duma and neighboring villages," he told The Jakarta Post on Tuesday by phone.

"I've received a report from North Maluku military sector commander Col. Sutrisno that the wounded and survivors were evacuated to neighboring Tobelo district.

"Local officials flew to the area by helicopter to handle the violence. I've ordered troops from the marines as well as the 511st and the 512nd battalions of Brawijaya to secure the villages," he said.

The attack on the predominantly Christian villages started at about 5 a.m. local time when around 5,000 armed people from Soa- Siu village entered and raided Duma from all directions, Tamaela said.

"But a one-hour open clash broke out around 9 a.m. local time," Tamaela said.

Duma, as well as strife-torn Makete and Galela villages, is located less than a kilometer from the shores of the Halmahera Sea.

The head of Galela's Synode Masehi Injil Halmahera Church, Rev. Z. Dungir STH, said that apart from 158 dead, 213 were injured.

At least 300 buildings were burned to the ground, including the historical Mita Church which was built during the Dutch Colonial era, Dungir said.

The injured were taken to Bethesda Hospital, about 40 kilometers away, while up to late on Tuesday the bodies of the dead were reportedly were scattered at the scene, awaiting evacuation.

"Most of the victims were injured due to bomb shrapnel and gunshot wounds. Houses also were burned and many died in their sleep," he said, adding that he witnessed the church being burned by the attackers.

The attack was a repeat of another dawn attack on May 29, also in Duma and Makete villages where at least 50 died, and on May 25 in Mamuya village, also in Galela, in which 34 people were killed.

Monday's attack was one of the worst incidents on record in the long-running sectarian conflict in the Maluku islands.

"This is clearly genocide of Christians on Halmahera island. Laskar Jihad wants us to be cleared off," Dungir charged.

Tamaela could not hide his disappointment at the incident, but declined to say why the rioters managed to attack. "I have to gather all data and facts to figure it all out," he said.

Asked why no firm action of shoot-on-sight was taken as previously ordered, Tamaela admitted that the troops were hesitant to fire as the armed mobs outnumbered them.

"Imagine if the troops opened fire. Many more would die. Is there any guarantee that in the future there would be no legal charges against the military (for opening fire)?" he said.

Tamaela also gave clarification on previous news of around 30 women and children that "were pushed into three trucks and held hostage by the rioters".

Col. Sutrisno checked on Soa Siu village, which is the base of the rioters, and found out that the people are relatives of the attackers, he said.

Later in the day on Obi island in North Maluku, Antara reported that security forces from Maluku seized over 1,000 weapons, including guns, poisonous arrows and assembled bombs in Bobo village, which was rocked by communal clashes with 17 people killed and dozens injured on June 7. (49/48/edt)