Tue, 15 Aug 2000

Tension high in Ambon ahead of Aug. 17 celebrations

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Tension gripped Ambon on Monday ahead of the Aug. 17 Independence Day celebrations as rumors of renewed massive attacks continued to spread fear among the city's residents.

Sounds of explosions and gunfire were still heard until late in the day in several parts of the city, including Pohon Pule, Diponegoro, Tanah Lapang Kecil and the no-man's-land between the restive Batu Merah and Mardika districts, forcing the locals to stay on the alert at all times.

"We have nothing to celebrate here. Most parts of Ambon have been destroyed. We don't have any flags to hoist or decorative banners," a local journalist said.

"It's weird that shots and explosions are going off everywhere and yet it is not clear to what purpose the perpetrators are doing it."

Among the areas reportedly targeted next by the rioters are the Saparua islands in Central Maluku regency as well as Paso and Galala.

"The rioters have spread news, saying that those areas must fall into their hands on Aug. 18," the reporter said.

Civil emergency administrator Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina, however, strongly urged the people not to be easily provoked.

"Don't let those rioters play with the situation and end up creating unrest here. Usually the rumors come true. But this time, let's stop it together," Latuconsina said.

On Monday, the governor along with Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. Firman Gani, Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. I Made Yasa and related officials set up a joint board to uphold law and order in Ambon during the period of the civil emergency in the islands.

"This board's main task is to deal with violations committed by civilians or biased members of the security forces.

"We do not want a small incident such as the looting of roofing materials or robbery to become a catalyst for widespread disturbances... like what happened in Friday's violence which killed six people," Yasa said.

Firman Gani also added that the National Police in Jakarta had shipped three container-loads of ammunition and brand new AK-47 and SS-1 rifles along with uniforms and other supplies for police personnel serving in Maluku.

"It is supposed to arrive here this week."

The National Police have bought a total of 16,000 new rifles to be distributed in the three conflict-prone provinces of Maluku, Aceh and Irian Jaya," Firman said.

Red Cross

Earlier in the day, Governor Latuconsina met with Indonesian Red Cross (PMI) chairman Mar'ie Muhammad at Pattimura Airport for the handover of humanitarian aid for victims in both Maluku and North Maluku.

A total of 1,000 packs of blood, each containing 250 cc, along with three tons of rice, 1,500 plastic mattresses, 1,000 blankets and 12 collies of medicine supplies were provided for the Maluku capital of Ambon in a modest ceremony at the airport.

In the case of Ternate town in North Maluku, the PMI donated 300 blood packs and 100 toilet seats.

In Bitung town in North Sulawesi, an area which hosts thousands of Maluku refugees, the PMI will also hand over 12 collies of medicine and 300 blood packs on Tuesday.

"I will also ask MSF (Medicins Sans Frontiers, an international healthcare NGO) to provide medical equipment and devices," Mar'ie added.

Meanwhile, Health Ministry Office chief in Maluku, Budiharto, said that it is hard to find blood donors in Ambon.

"It's difficult to preserve blood packs here as the electricity can go on and off at anytime," he said. (49/edt/jaw)