Thu, 04 Mar 1999

Wiranto removes Maluku police chief

JAKARTA (JP): Armed Forces (ABRI) Commander Gen. Wiranto on Wednesday removed Col. Karyono from his position as police chief of riot-torn Maluku, citing "operational reasons".

The announcement came one day after a battalion of marines from the East Java capital of Surabaya, arrived in Maluku's capital Ambon. They were dispatched to control clashes in the province that have so far killed at least 159 people, injured hundreds of others and destroyed thousands of buildings.

"I have ordered National Police chief (Gen. Roesmanhadi) to replace the Maluku police chief for operational reasons," Wiranto told reporters before a Cabinet meeting on political and security affairs at Bina Graha presidential office.

He did not name Karyono's replacement.

Ambon and other islands in the province have been rocked by clashes between Muslims and Christians since mid-January.

Wiranto also said he will send two army battalions from Java to Ambon to reinforce troops currently stationed in the city.

"An army battalion from Purworejo (Central Java) leaves today and another battalion from Situbondo (East Java) will depart today or tomorrow," Wiranto said.

He said troops dispatched from the South Sulawesi capital of Ujungpandang will be withdrawn from Ambon "to avoid the impression of extending protection to one particular ethnic group".

He did not say when the troops would leave.

Hundreds of Christians in Ambon protested the shootings of civilians last week, saying that troops dispatched from Ujungpandang had been siding with Muslims in the riots.

Wiranto said the new troops had been ordered to take "very firm and tough" action against anyone who "destroys, burns or disturbs the peace, regardless of their ethnic or religious background".

"They should follow my previous order to shoot-on-sight to disarm though not to kill."

The ABRI chief also said the military had no intention of covering up an incident in which troops opened fire near a mosque in Ahuru, outside Ambon, during dawn prayers on Monday.

Two people died at the scene.

"There will be no cover up. Firm action will be taken against whoever (was involved in the incident), be they military or civilian and whatever their religion or ethnic group," he said.

On Wednesday afternoon, tensions mounted in Ambon after Arman Tupamahu, 34, suffered injuries from a stabbing on Jl. A.M. Sangaji, near the downtown Silo Church, by a man identified as Abad.

Noya Sileo Bistos of the Maranatha riot monitoring post told The Jakarta Post by phone from Ambon, that hundreds of Muslims and Christians then gathered in the area. Troops were rushed in and warning shots were fired to disperse the crowd.

Syafrudin Umahuk, a staff member at the Al Fatah Mosque, told the Post that hundreds of Christians had planned to attack the mosque on Wednesday afternoon but were dispersed by security personnel.

Witnesses said that shops and schools remained closed on Wednesday.

Neighborhood gangs were seen wielding machetes and knifes as they set up roadblocks and checked passing vehicles.


"The city remains tense and barricades can be seen on the streets, but the worse thing is that essentials are becoming difficult to obtain," Syafrudin said.

He said ships carrying supplies to Ambon have suspended operations since renewed clashes between Muslims and Christians broke out in the downtown Batu Merah village on Feb. 23.

Thousands of people have taken refuge in mosques, churches, military facilities and government buildings in Ambon, while thousands of others have fled on ships for their hometowns in Sulawesi.

Minister of Information Muhammad Yunus said after the Cabinet meeting on Wednesday, that at least 159 people have been killed and more than 400 others injured since the clashes erupted in the province in mid-January.

Yunus added that two military personnel were killed in the clashes.

He also said that 3,544 houses were set on fire in the weeks of violence which caused Rp 500 billion in material losses.

The violence was initially sparked by a dispute between a Muslim migrant and a local Christian driver of a public minibus on Jan. 19.

It quickly degenerated into full-scale riots involving members of both communities.(byg/prb)