Wed, 24 May 2000

One dead, dozens injured in latest Ambon violence

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Prospects of a lull in the prolonged violence remain slim after another clash rocked the town on Tuesday, leaving a civilian dead and dozens of others injured.

The outbreak occurred when a group of people in a Kijang van hurled a homemade bomb at a military post built on the rubble of a building in Pohon Pule subdistrict, chief of Pattimura Military Command overseeing Maluku Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela said.

"Once the attack took place at 1:15 p.m., troops opened fire to disperse the crowd who were forcing their way into the restricted areas of Jl. A.Y. Patti and Pohon Pule," Tamaela said.

The van sped off to Soa Bali village.

The explosion occurred about 100 meters from Tugu Trikora in downtown, while a second blast hit Pohon Pule area about 30 minutes later.

Witnesses said a mob from Soa Bali and Waehaong villages brandished rifles, jars of fuel, bombs and other weaponry.

A becak (pedicab) driver named Otter Lesnussa was found dead with a gunshot wound in his back, about 300 meters from the site of the violence.

"He was peddling the becak with two passengers in it when a stray bullet hit him. The pedicab overturned and the passengers fled in fear," a witness said.

Lesnussa's body was taken to Bakti Rahayu Hospital and claimed by his relatives later in the day.

During the fray gunshots were also heard coming from the buildings near the site of the incident.

"I suspect that during the shootout, snipers took advantage of the situation by taking potshots from buildings around the area," Tamaela said.

As of Tuesday evening sounds of explosions were still heard from the Batu Merah - Mardika districts, where clashes restarted last Tuesday. At least 40 people were killed and more than 100 injured.

A total of 850 reinforcements from the Police Mobile Brigade (Brimob) were dispatched on Tuesday from Jakarta in a bid to quell the riot. National Police chief Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo demanded that members of Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah (Jihad Force) leave Ambon because he believed their presence would only foment more trouble.

Earlier in the day during a coordination meeting with provincial councilors and Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina, Tamaela also said that Maluku authorities were considering imposing a state of civil emergency in Ambon.

"Our priority is to stop the conflict. We will proceed with the plan to remove Laskar Jihad while taking precautions not to cause further upheaval," he said.

In the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar hundreds of Muslim students from Maluku held a rally to demand Tamaela be dismissed for failing to remain neutral in handling the sectarian clashes.

"We urge President Abdurrahman Wahid and TNI Commander Adm. Widodo A.S. to fire Tamaela, because he has failed to settle the bloody conflicts in Ambon and Maluku in general," protest leader M. Hasbi Azis said.

The demonstrators, made up of high school and university students, were grouped in the Joint Committee for Maluku and North Maluku Muslim Students.

The students gathered at Mandala Monument on Jl. Jenderal Sudirman, burning an effigy of Tamaela and the separatist Republic of South Maluku (RMS) flag. (49/48/27/edt/sur)