Mon, 14 Aug 2000

Six killed, 18 injured in fresh Ambon fighting

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Ambon was still tense on Sunday following clashes between troops and armed rioters at the border between Batu Merah and Mardika areas that left at least six people dead and 18 others wounded, officials and witnesses said.

Public minivan driver Daniel Kaya and speedboat passenger Beny were also severely injured on Saturday in separate clashes in Pohon Pule in downtown Ambon and off Rumah Tiga beach.

"The incidents at the Batu Merah-Mardika area late on Friday will become a lesson to any parties instigating an attack.

"Stern measures will be taken against rioters, regardless of their religion," Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. I Made Yasa said on Saturday.

Most survivors suffered gunshot and shrapnel wounds and were being treated at Al Fatah Islamic Hospital.

The Friday episode began when youths from the predominantly Muslim Batu Merah subdistrict reportedly stole roofing materials from abandoned houses in the Christian Mardika area.

"Reports said a group of men from Mardika forcibly took a motorbike from a Muslim woman shortly afterwards," Yasa said.

Witnesses said armed Christian and Muslim mobs then took to the streets.

The warring groups had reached about 150 meters into the Mardika area before troops divided them and tried to disperse them, a local reporter said.

"Troops fired warning shots and the Mardika camp backed away.

"But attackers from Batu Merah continued their assault by launching mortars, homemade bombs and spraying bullets at security personnel. Open fighting became inevitable." the reporter said.

General Yasa said that casualties were unavoidable.

"The troops in the field had their lives on the line. We have already warned the rioters," Yasa added.

Later on Saturday, the cause of Friday's rioting -- a Yahama motorbike -- was handed over to the civil emergency administrator by the Maluku Protestant Church (GPM). It was later transferred to the secretary of the Maluku chapter of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI), Malik Selang.

Up until Sunday morning, explosions and gunfire were still being heard from several abandoned housing complexes in Ambon.


Yasa also said that a fresh batch of 450 personnel from the Navy, Army and Air Force special forces arrived in Ambon on Aug. 9.

"The group, which comprises of members of the Air Force Elite Unit (Paskhas), the Marines, the Army Strategic Reserves Command (Kostrad) and the Army's Special Force (Kopassus), will function as a tactical combat unit and only be used in certain emergency situations.

"They won't be placed in security posts and will remain as special reserved troops," Yasa said.

Yasa said Kopassus' main function would be intelligence.

"As the Pattimura Military Command was only reestablished on May 15 last year, we badly need a special intelligence unit's expertise. Therefore the military headquarters formed a task force, consisting of three military units, including Kopassus.

"Intelligence is the basis of a military command, so its (Kopassus) function here is to become the eyes and the ears of the (Pattimura) military command," Yasa said.

Daniel Kaya, the public minivan driver who was shot on Saturday met Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina three hours after being operated on.

"We demand the authorities wipe out all snipers roaming our route," Daniel said. He then gave the projectile taken from his back to the governor.

"I will coordinate this with security troops," Latuconsina told the group of protesting drivers. (49/edt)