Wed, 22 Nov 2000

Tension escalates in Ambon

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Tension has been escalating in the strife- torn Maluku capital of Ambon following a series of incidents and an accident that has left nine people dead and several injured in the past few days.

Seven people drowned on Monday night when a speedboat heading for Amahusu and Latuhalat villages in Nusaniwe district from Pantai Benteng sank off Air Salobar, about seven kilometers east of Ambon.

Witnesses said the speedboat usually carried only 16 to 18 passengers, but when the accident took place the boat was carrying 28 to 30 people.

"The situation was tense in the city and there was not enough transportation so people forced their way onto that one boat.

"Strong waves overturned the vessel," a local journalist said on Tuesday night.

Local authorities and residents were still looking for the other passengers.

"It's possible some of those passengers survived," the reporter said.

As of Tuesday night, sounds of gunfire were still heard from Batu Gantung, Perigi Lima and Pohon Pule in downtown Ambon.

"It's not clear who fired the shots but people are worried. Residents have to avoid certain areas of Batu Merah - Mardika and Diponegoro areas since snipers are reportedly still roaming there.

"It's not safe to travel the streets, especially in the afternoon. So, after 1 p.m. the roads are usually deserted and no transportation dares to pass," the journalist added.

The accident brought the death toll to at least nine in a week of renewed violence on Ambon island. (49/edt)