Sat, 11 Sep 1999

Seven killed, 45 hurt in more Ambon violence

JAKARTA (JP): At least seven people were killed and 45 more injured after troops and police opened fire to disperse a mob attempting to attack government buildings and a shopping complex in the Maluku capital of Ambon on Friday, witnesses and hospital sources said.

Quoting reports from the Al-Fatah Islamic hospital, a local activist said that most of the victims died from gunshot wounds.

Malik Selang, who was contacted by The Jakarta Post, identified the casualties as Bakri Ingnatubun, Sapuan Hafidz Nurlete, Mohamad Tahir Wakas, Salafudin Elly, Rahim, Jamal Nalahelu and Jafar.

Malik said those injured were still being treated at the hospital.

Antara said that at least eight people were killed and 60 more injured in the violence.

The news agency said that most of the victims were shot in the head and chest. It also said that the death toll could well increase as a number of people were still in a coma.

Local police and military, however, were not immediately available to confirm the reports.

Witnesses said violence erupted when a large group of people were trying to break through a security line on Jl. Sultan Hairun at about 4 p.m. local time (2 p.m. Western Indonesia Time).

They said the mob began throwing molotov cocktails and firing shots at the security personnel who then fired back.

"Security personnel first fired warning shots and tear gas, but then aimed at the crowd," Malik said.

Witnesses also said that security personnel had to fire warning shots to quell separate violence in the downtown areas of Mardika and Batumerah earlier in the day.

The areas have been the center of clashes between Muslims and Christians since the conflict erupted in Ambon in mid-January.

Witnesses said tension gripped the town until late on Friday. Troops and police were seen patrolling and setting up roadblocks in a number of areas considered prone to clashes.

Since end of July alone, the unabated violence has claimed more than 100 lives. Thousands have fled the city, including ethnic Chinese.

Ambon and other islands in Maluku were shaken by months of Muslim-Christian violence, with more than 350 killed and tens of thousands of people seeking refuge in other provinces.

Ambon Airport, which was handed over to the military last month, remained closed to commercial flights.

The city's Yos Sudarso Port was reopened in mid-August after hundreds of Muslim refugees, who occupied the port after violence resumed in late July, were removed.

Four battalions of reinforcement troops from outside Maluku were dispatched to the provincial capital to quell the violence.

The upsurge in violence has forced more than 34,000 people to seek shelter at more than 30 locations in and around Ambon, including mosques, churches and military barracks, and prompted thousands of others to flee to other provinces. (byg/48)