Sat, 22 Jan 2000

Refugees keep flowing out of Lombok island

MATARAM, West Nusa Tenggara (JP): There was no letup on Friday in the exodus of people fleeing the violence in Lombok of the past week, with most headed to neighboring Bali.

Although peace returned to the island, swirling rumors of renewed attacks stoked tension. But no incidents were reported by the evening.

Nine buses carrying hundreds of people left under military escort from the 742 Army Battalion Headquarters to the Lembar inter-island ferry port.

About 1,000 others were still trapped in Lembar, waiting for troops to clear roadblocks of uprooted trees erected by mobs, an administration official at Padangbai seaport in Bali, I Gusti Arnawa, was quoted by AFP as saying.

Among those evacuated was German designer Christine Schumacher, 41, who was assaulted and robbed by a mob as she vacationed at Gili Meno islet near Senggigi beach on Wednesday.

She sought refuge at West Lombok Police Station and was later evacuated to Lembar.

More than 5,000 people have left the island since the rioting broke out on Monday, according to port and airline statistics.

West Nusa Tenggara Police announced on Friday they had identified four provocateurs from Lombok and three others from Jakarta. Police spokesman Capt. Agus Sutisna declined to name the suspects, who are still at large.

"We haven't arrested any of them due to the lack of conclusive evidence."

He added the security alert status for the area remained in effect. "In cases of new vandalism, we will take tougher action against those who break the law."

Provincial police chief Col. Sukandri said the unrest caused more than Rp 60 billion in losses.

"The unrest was fomented by members of the political elite, who deliberately sought to stir up a hornet's nest merely because of their disappointment with the present government," Sukandri said.

Daily and business activities resumed on Friday.

Friday prayers across the provincial capital mostly conveyed messages of peace and harmony between people, reminding followers that destructive actions were against Islamic teachings.

Mosques also announced the amount of donations for victims of the Maluku sectarian strife, which was collected during Monday's mass gathering immediately before the violence began.

A total of Rp 8.7 million was donated by Muslims at the gathering, Rp 8 million collected from the Chinese-Indonesian community in the town and Rp 5 million from the Udayana Military Command.

Leaders of Islamic Solidarity for the Ambonese, which organized Monday's gathering, expressed regret over the rioting, arson attacks on churches and widespread violence.

"Our wish was purely to help Muslims in Maluku. Had we known beforehand that the mass gathering would spark unrest, in the name of Allah we would not have organized it," committee chairman Zainal Asikim told a media conference.

He said the committee could not be held responsible for incidents after the gathering.

Zainal and several committee members were earlier questioned by the police concerning the riots.

When asked about the presence of the chairman of the Indonesian Muslim Workers Brotherhood (PPMI), Eggy Sudjana, on the day of the rioting, Zainal said he was unacquainted with him.

Provincial PPMI chief Amriful Hakim, who also spoke at the conference, said he invited Eggy to address the gathering.

"But it was his fate that he came late. He arrived at 3:30 p.m., hours after the gathering was over. Therefore, he knew nothing about the unrest," said Amriful in response to rumors Eggy was involved in fomenting the violence.

Mass prayer

A planned mass prayer by Amfibi, a group of civilian militia claiming to have 150,000 members, which was scheduled in East Lombok on Saturday, was canceled on Friday due to fears of renewed unrest.

"Amfibi has called off the event. We have urged that such events be held indoors to prevent possible unrest," J. Muhammad Djuwayni, chief of the Indonesian Mosques Board in East Lombok, said.

Swirling rumors of more unrest continued to disturb locals. Residents of Parampuan in Mataram were alarmed on Thursday night by an unfounded report that two local mosques were burned by Hindus.

Locals said the story was spread by a man dressed in military uniform who claimed to be an officer. A large group of people gathered and threatened to retaliate against the Hindu community. Security personnel later arrived and dispersed the crowd.

A rumor also spread in Karang Mas village, causing dozens of Hindus to flee their homes and others to arm themselves against a possible attack.

"It's not true that any mosques were burned. It was an effort to pit people against each other. The report was also aimed at discrediting the military," Agus Sutisna said. (zen/edt)