Wed, 23 Feb 2000

Violence rocks Maluku after week of calm

AMBON, Maluku (JP): A church in the Central Maluku regency capital of Masohi was burned in a bomb blast as fresh violence rocked the province on Tuesday.

The attack broke weeks of calm in Maluku after a year of sectarian conflict which left thousands dead and displaced.

Witnesses said a group of people marched from Binaya market to Zebaot Church at about 7:00 a.m. local time before a deafening blast was heard in the church compound.

The house of a preacher located inside the compound was also burned in the attack, local residents said.

"About 30 minutes later Christians flocked to the church and were about to march to a nearby mosque, but security personnel from Infantry Battalion 611 kept them at bay," a resident, who requested anonymity, said.

He said the crowd clashed with the military troops, with a youth identified as Emus Siahainemia sustaining a gunshot wound to his chest. The young man is in critical condition, the witness said.

Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela confirmed the incident, saying he had ordered his troops to take stern action against any attempt to provoke unrest.

Maluku Police spokesman Maj. Jekriel Philips also confirmed the clash, but refused to speculate about which groups were involved in the violence.

Another incident occurred on the island of Morotai, North Maluku, early on Monday, leaving 32 houses and three churches damaged. No fatalities were reported in the unrest.

The violence comes after military personnel seized 4,000 weapons from warring groups in Maluku. The weapons, including homemade rifles and bombs, were dumped into the sea on Monday in the latest effort to stop sectarian clashes in the province.

The Mina Raya 05 dumped the weapons seized during the Jan. 2 to Feb. 19 arms sweep into the waters of Tanjung Alang.

Tamaela, Governor Saleh Latuconsina, Maluku Police chief Brig. Gen. I Dewa Astika and Muslim and Christian leaders were present on board the ship.

The military chief said the event should mark the end of hard feelings among Maluku residents.

"Please do not illegally assemble or make rifles which could endanger other people's lives, or the law enforcers will take action.

"These weapons are not evidence in criminal cases or anything. We keep all evidence at the police station until the trials begin," Tamaela said.

After the ceremony, Tamaela proceeded to Halong Naval base to greet 600 new troops from the Brawijaya (East Java) and Jakarta military commands. The new troops replace soldiers from the Siliwangi (West Java) and Sriwijaya (South Sumatra) military commands.

Some 15 battalions of security personnel have been sent to Maluku to restore order there. (49/sur)