Sun, 07 Mar 1999

One killed, 16 injured in predawn Ambon shooting

JAKARTA (JP): One man died and at least 16 others were injured after armed security personnel opened fire on crowds watching over the fire-bombed Silo Church in the riot-torn Maluku capital of Ambon early Saturday, church sources and hospital staff said.

The gunmen, suspected to be plainclothes security personnel, were in two Kijang vans stopped by residents near the church which was slightly damaged by petrol bombs on Friday night, the Indonesian Communion of Churches has said in a report.

This report stated residents were suspicious of the vehicles. When they stopped the cars at around 2:15 a.m. and saw weapons inside, they punctured one of the tires.

The passengers then got out and opened fire on the residents, the report said.

The report also said one man, identified as Denny Letty, was killed while at least 16 others were injured. Nine were rushed to the Maluku Protestant Church Hospital while the seven others were taken to Kudamati General Hospital.

A staff member at the emergency ward of Kudamati told The Jakarta Post by phone from Ambon that Denny died from a bullet wound to his chest.

"He died at around 4:30 a.m. on Saturday," said the staff member on condition of anonymity.

The report said there were about eight people who got out of the vehicles and opened fire. It added that two of them were identified as members of Ambon Police precinct, First Sgt. Nikson Odebio and Sgt. Maj. Alimin.

It added that the eight were armed with rifles and pistols. One of them, who appeared to be the person in command, was seen with a bandoleer of bullets on his shoulder.

On-duty marines were rushed to the area and pushed the gunmen back to their vehicles.

The local authorities, however, could not be contacted for confirmation on Saturday.

The report also said that at least two people, including 83- year-old Hengky Chia, were killed and three more were injured in two separate incidents in the downtown Batu Merah village on Friday.

Hengky was stabbed, according to the report, by a number of people when he was passing the area on Friday afternoon while Erwin Wijoyoso, 41, was killed in the same area later that evening.

Batu Merah has been the center of clashes between Muslims and Christians since the violence first erupted in mid-January.

A series of bomb blasts near the Silo Church late Friday shattered a brief calm brought to the city when a battalion of marines, the advance group of about 2,000 reinforcement troops, were sent to Ambon by the Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Gen. Wiranto on Wednesday.

Since the violence first erupted, thousands of people have taken refuge in mosques, churches, military installations and other government buildings in Ambon. Thousands of others have fled the city on ships for their hometowns in Southeast Sulawesi and South Sulawesi.

Meanwhile, in the South Sulawesi capital of Ujungpandang, a total of 496 prospective pilgrims from Maluku, including 130 from Ambon, arrived at the Hasanuddin Airport on Saturday.

Officials have said earlier that hundreds of prospective pilgrims from Maluku were late in registering their departures for the haj pilgrimage due to the continuing clashes.

Meanwhile, Antara reported on Saturday that hundreds of Muslim students staged a peaceful rally in front of a local military headquarters in Mataram, West Nusa Tenggara to protest the slaying of Muslims in the continuing sectarian clashes in Maluku.

The students, coming from the Muhammadiyah University and the Alaziziah Islamic boarding school and grouped in the Muslim Students Association (HMI) and the Indonesian Muslim Students Action Front (KAMMI), held the rally in front of the 162/Wirabhakti Military Command.

They demanded the resignation of National Police Chief Gen. Roesmanhadi, whom they alleged is responsible for the killing of four Muslims during a dawn attack led by police officers.

They also urged Roesmanhadi to take immediate and concrete actions to investigate the killings. Otherwise, he should step down, the students said.

The student protesters, led by the local chairman of KAMMI, Surjadi Jaya Purna, earlier staged free speech forums in other parts of Mataram before marching to the local military command.

Unrest also took place in other places, including in Kendal, Central Java, where at least nine people were injured after security personnel opened fire to disperse a violent protest demanding a wage increase at a plywood company on Saturday. (byg/27/har)