Fri, 23 Jun 2000

Tension grips Maluku as violence continues

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Violence persisted in restive Maluku province on Thursday after overnight clashes here left at least 11 people, including five security personnel, dead.

A mob burned down Efrata Church in the Tantui area, where thousands of armed people attacked the police barracks on Wednesday. Sounds of bomb explosions and gunfire were heard. By late on Thursday clashes had spread to the center of the city.

Exchanges of gunfire also took place in the waters off Teluk Ambon Dalam port around 1 p.m., killing two people injuring eight others. The victims were taken to Al Fatah Hospital and Dr. Haulussy Hospital.

"The attackers on speedboats come from Batu Merah and Benteng areas," a witness said.

Until late on Thursday, security forces were still trying to stave off rioters forcing their way into the predominantly- Christian Mardika area. Similar scenes occurred in Ahuru, three kilometers east of Mardika.

Schools and offices were closed.

Pattimura Military Commander overseeing Maluku Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela confirmed the death of two Army soldiers and two Mobile Police Brigade (Brimob) personnel in the overnight attack in Tantui.

But military territorial assistant Col. Budiatmo put the number of Army casualties at three.

Victims from Tantui were taken to Halong Naval hospital and Al Fatah hospital.

Fears of escalating violence caused some 700 people on Thursday to leave riot-torn Halmahera island, North Maluku, on two Indonesian Navy ships. They had fled their homes after an armed mob killed more than 100 people in the neighboring village of Duma in a predawn attack on Sunday.

The refugees, from the three Christian villages of Dokulamo, Soatobaru Baru and Duma, were transported to Tobelo.

In the waters off North Maluku, Navy warship KRI Lambung Mangkurat ambushed three ships filled with dozens of armed people, a navy news release stated.

In Jakarta, Indonesian Military (TNI) spokesman Rear Air Marshall Graito Usodo told The Jakarta Post the imposition of martial law could help the security forces restore order in the islands.

"Although martial law will not necessarily solve the problems in Maluku, it will provide a conducive situation for us in conducting operations to put an end to the unrest," he said.

Graito said natural constraints and local people's lack of will to stop fighting had impeded the military's efforts to bring peace, despite the deployment of 18,000 soldiers.

"There are hundreds of islands, while we haven't many vessels. People seem to have lost their common sense. All they want now is to kill each other in the name of religious teachings," he added.

There have been reports of the involvement of Laskar Jihad Muslim volunteers in the recent outbreaks in Maluku.

"How can we control these people. We cannot just shoot them. Our security cordon manages to keep them at bay for only two or three days," Graito said.

The military has also detected evidence of foreign groups supplying weapons to the warring groups.

Graito said the military suspected Muslims fighters had received some of their weapons from Muslim separatists on Moro island, the Philippines, former militia groups in East Timor and Acehnese rebels.

Christians had secured funds and supplies from some foreign nongovernmental organizations, he added without elaborating.

The United States, meanwhile, voiced deep concern on Wednesday over the new round of religious violence and urged Jakarta to take immediate measures to prevent further bloodshed.

"We're especially troubled by the fact that the security forces have proven either unwilling or unable to stop large-scale attacks on communities, so we're urging the government of Indonesia to take immediate and effective measures to prevent further bloodshed," state department spokesman Philip Reeker said in Washington. (49/edt/dja)