Wed, 15 Jan 2003

Small bomb tests Ambon's fragile peace

Oktavianus Pinontoan, The Jakarta Post, Ambon

The fragile peace in Ambon was shattered on Tuesday when a homemade bomb exploded near a public transportation vehicle in the predominantly Muslim area of Batu Merah, which led to stone throwing and the torching of a vehicle belonging to the local diocese.

The violence erupted while four ministers and several other officials from Jakarta were meeting with the interim Maluku governor, Sinyo Harry Sarundayang, at his residence in the Mangga Dua area.

Three men were wounded, one from the explosion and two from the stone pelting, which shattered the windows of the targeted vehicle. The back window of another vehicle was shattered from the explosion.

Following the incident at about 10:45 a.m., nearby roads were closed, while other streets became immediately deserted. The situation returned to normal in the afternoon, however, employees and other office workers went home early.

"People are fed up, they're not easily influenced," said Donald H., a public transportation driver.

The wounded were First Sgt. Edi Suatima of the artillery battalion, driver Edi Singkeri and another driver, Agus Soulili.

The incident, one of many since the Malino peace agreement was signed on Feb. 23 last year, "is one of several attempts by irresponsible people who wish to create disruptive conditions," Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Pol. Bambang Sutrisno said.

Police are searching for a man who is about 1.60 meters tall and wearing a yellow jacket and black trousers.

The Malino agreement has brought relative peace to the area. Nevertheless, at least five explosions and more than 10 bomb threats have attempted to shatter the frail peace.

People in Maluku have become less easily provoked than before, especially with the exit of the Laskar Jihad Islamic militia and the arrest of separatist Maluku Sovereignty Forum (FKM) leader Alex Manuputty, police said.

Manuputty, who is facing criminal charges in Jakarta, was in Ambon on Tuesday to attend last week's meeting of traditional leaders. He is scheduled to attend a court hearing in Jakarta on Monday, however, he arrived in Ambon last Saturday, together with National Police chief Gen. Dai Bachtiar.

Prosecutor Herry Koedoeboen told The Jakarta Post that he was not informed that the defendant would not be appearing in court, and his continued presence in Ambon, together with another FKM leader, Semmy Waeleruny, has raised speculation as to whether the explosion was an attempt to discredit the FKM.