Sat, 12 Feb 2000

Over 9,500 still in hiding in Maluku jungle

AMBON, Maluku (JP): As rebuilding starts in riot-torn Maluku, over 9,500 residents of Tehoru and Weriname regencies on Seram Island remain in hiding in the jungle and nearby mountain, a humanitarian group reported recently.

The head of the post handling riot victims on the island, Onny Walalayo, said the people were part of some 12,000 residents, mostly Christians, who fled their homes following sectarian riots at the end of December last year.

The remaining displaced people are being sheltered in North Seram villages and an Islamic boarding school in Wahai district.

"The refugees, particularly those who ran away into the jungle, lack food and medicine," Walalayo said. At least seven people were killed during the escape, he added.

He said security remained the major concern in villages housing the refugees, because they were vulnerable to attack from the rivaling group. He also complained that the displaced people were expected to pay Rp 1,500 for each medical treatment administered.

At least 32 villages in the regencies of Tehoru and Werinama were totally destroyed as angry mobs went on the rampage after Christmas.

Separately, Maluku deputy governor of people's welfare Paula Renyaan said a rescue operation was underway in Seram jungle and the nearby mountain. A helicopter has been deployed to help the mission.

"Dense foliage is making it difficult for us to find the refugees," Paula said.

Meanwhile, about 1,500 locals of Kariu village on the neighboring island of Haruku demanded Governor Saleh Latuconsina allow them to return to their village and rebuild their homes.

"We fled our land a year ago due to widespread rioting. Now it is occupied by the people who attacked us," the villagers told Saleh on Thursday. The refugees have been sheltering at neighboring Aboru village for one year.

The year-long conflict in Maluku has left over 2,000 dead and thousands more displaced. (49/edt)