Tue, 04 Jan 2000

TNI sends more troops to Maluku

JAKARTA (JP): Over 400 reinforcements arrived in riot-torn Maluku on Monday, with a pledge to maintain neutrality in their efforts to quell the communal clashes that have rocked the islands for the past year.

Lt. Col. Sukoso Maksum, who heads the 401 Infantry Battalion from the Central Java-based Diponegoro Military Command, said upon arrival at Sultan Baabulah airport in North Maluku's main city of Ternate that his personnel would take a mediatory role, without ignoring their main duty to restore order.

"Everybody is expected to act stiffly and maintain impartiality when dealing with the warring parties," Sukoso said as quoted by Antara.

Alleged discriminative treatment by security personnel has been blamed for the unabated sectarian conflict across the archipelagic province. A member of a reconcilatory team sent to Maluku, Thamrin Amal Tomagola, said last week security troops had failed to uphold neutrality in their handling of the cycle of violence in Maluku.

The arrival of reinforcements, popularly called Bull Raiders, will join an Army battalion sent from East Java to North Maluku's riot-hit areas of Galela, Tobelo, Kao and Jailolo.

Some 8,000 troops have been dispatched to Maluku since the first outbreak of violence took place in mid-January last year.

Fresh waves of clashes have erupted in North and Central Maluku over the past week. The Indonesian Military (TNI) estimated the death toll during the week of violence at 448, with 270 others severely injured.

In a statement released on Monday, the TNI said Galela, Tobelo, Jailolo and Ibo districts remained prone to clashes.

There has been controversy on the number of fatalities. Antara quoted refugees and North Maluku Police chief Lt. Col. Didik Prijandono as saying that between 400 and 500 people had been killed over the past week. A group of South Sulawesi natives living in North Maluku reported that figure was too high.

Hours before the arrival of new troops, at least six people were killed in two separate incidents in North Maluku. Meanwhile, thousands others fled their homes to seek safety.

Three people were mobbed to death for alleged infiltration shortly after their arrival at Ahmad Yani seaport in Ternate. They were among refugees from Tobelo and Galela.

No details were available about the incident, which took place early on Monday. Later in the day, three people died in a clash in the Bahtera neighborhood area of Ternate.

Sawid Silawane from the local Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) confirmed the incident in Bahtera and identified the three victims as Muslim residents from Nusa Pelau in Haruku island and Kairatu.

"They died of fatal gunshot wounds and all were buried immediately after the incident. Security forces shot them in their attempt to disperse the crowd," he told The Jakarta Post.

Sawid said he had no idea what might have fueled the incident, but he insisted that Muslim residents would take revenge for the previous day's burning of a privately run Islamic hospital.

A resident of Bahtera, Edong alias Harti, said the neighborhood was calm on Monday evening.

"People only stopped the throwing homemade bombs after police arrived at around 12 a.m.," she said.

Earlier on Saturday communal clashes also erupted in Masohi, around one kilometer from Bahtera.

Edong said in Masohi and its vicinity residents were living without electricity supplies and public transport.

In Makassar, at least 100 people belonging to the South Sulawesi Muslims Front (FMSS) staged a protest at the City Hall on Monday, demanding the evacuation of Muslims from riot-torn North Maluku.

The demonstrators, consisting of North Maluku people living in Makassar and local Muslim youths, urged the government of Indonesia and the South Sulawesi administration to provide Muslims in North Maluku with transportation.

"We want the South Sulawesi administration to give serious attention to North Maluku Muslims, who mostly hail from South Sulawesi, or there will be more killings," Bachtiar Andi Lewa, coordinator of the organization said.

Demonstrations were also staged in Yogyakarta, where some 2,000 people who claimed to represent the Muslim Brotherhood Forum (FUI) marched to the local legislative body to demand that the Maluku 'genocide' be promptly settled.

Some of the demonstrators made speeches, while others waved banners reading, among other things, "Ambon is not a second Bosnia."

Meanwhile, House of Representatives Speaker Akbar Tandjung suggested on Monday that the central government set up a crisis center to take over all problems occurred in Maluku since the local administration was no longer functioning.

"The center could handle and control all the administrative functions until the situation is declared safe," Akbar said.

He said the center is needed since the current clashes were believed to involve local public figures and officials. (27/emf/jun/swa/sur)