Six die in fresh Jakarta violence

Clashes between rival Muslim and Christian Ambonese groups result in at least two churches being torched and a convent being burned and ransacked.

SIX people died yesterday, one hacked to death by a mob, when violence once again broke out in the capital’s Chinatown, this time the result of internecine clashes between rival Muslim and Christian Ambonese gangs.

At least two churches were torched and a convent near the National Cathedral partially burned and ransacked by mobs which roved over several parts of central Jakarta shouting “kill the Ambonese”, at one point passing barely 10 metres from the presidential palace.

Troops fired warning shots and tear gas, tried persuasion through Muslim leaders, and flooded the streets, occasionally succeeding in breaking up the thousands of angry Muslims seeking retribution for the rumoured burning of a mosque by Ambonese Christians.

Although ethnic and religious in nature, the violence did not take on an overtly anti-Chinese cast despite its location. Witnesses said the mobs were intent on seeking out Ambonese and acting out a religious vendetta.

Two churches frequented by the eastern Indonesian islanders and a gaming hall controlled by them were attacked first, before the mobs sought out other churches in the vicinity.

Local Chinese residents shaken by the riots in May and last week were, however, not taking any chances. Hundreds of them, along with indigenous neighbours, stood guard outside the alleys leading to their urban kampongs at 3 am yesterday, when word spread that trouble was brewing.

Jakarta military commander Djadja Suparman said six people were killed and two soldiers seriously hurt.

Speaking to The Straits Times after surveying Chinatown by helicopter, he said more than 4,000 people, many from other parts of the city, went amok after false rumours circulated that a mosque had been burnt.

“Race and religion were used to provoke the masses into causing another round of violence in the capital. This is the third major beating for all of us after the May riots and the Semanggi tragedy.”

More than 1,200 people died in largely anti-Chinese riots in May, and 15 died in clashes with soldiers on Nov 13 near the Semanggi flyover.

Varying accounts were offered yesterday on how the clash began. Some said there was a fight in a local discotheque between rival gangs, others that a long-standing squabble over parking lot dues had erupted.

Major-General Djadja said Muslims from a mosque in Jalan Ketapang, just off Chinatown’s main artery, had demanded that a nearby gambling den, run by the Ambonese, close down. But the Ambonese refused and allegedly threw rocks at a prayer area near the mosque. As word spread, the rock-throwing became a torching.

By early morning, mobs of Muslim residents armed with bamboo poles and sickles were hunting the Ambonese. Witnesses
said three were killed by mobs after they were seen beating a local resident to death.

Several hours later, a group of Muslims caught someone they thought was an Ambonese and thrust him into a watching crowd, yelling: “Do whatever you want to him”, witnesses said.

The mob began hacking at him, not stopping even when he was later carried to an ambulance.

Other mobs marched on a nearby hotel Ambonese newcomers usually stay in. But soldiers had already evacuated them, a witness said.

Although observers said the strife was another sign of the country disintegrating under the weight of its economic crisis and political uncertainty, local residents were more sanguine.

An ethnic Chinese living near Jalan Ketapang said when asked if he would move out: “After the violence we saw in May, this is nothing.”

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