Five more die in Ambon strife

A few shops open but most remain shut as occasional gunshots by troops underscore the tension.

Five people were reported killed in the strife-torn island of Ambon yesterday, taking the death toll in five days of violence to at least 50.

A journalist with a local newspaper was cited in an AFP report as saying that he saw five people killed and burned in the middle of a road in one area.

He was quoted as saying that the five, all Muslims, were in a truck stopped for an identity check by a mob in a predominantly Christian area.

Three soldiers accompanying the truck fired warning shots, but were unable to stop the five being attacked and set on fire. Muslim groups were also reported to be carrying out identity checks on vehicles passing their neighbourhoods and beating up Christian passengers in certain areas.

A Muslim youth activist told AFP that he had received reports that houses were being burned in several areas in the eastern Indonesian city yesterday. But police denied the incidents.

A few stalls and one supermarket in the city reopened yesterday for residents to shop for staples, but many others remained closed for fear of further clashes between Muslim and Christian groups.

Christian salesman Koko told The Sunday Times that people were reluctant to venture out of their homes for fear of being attacked. “Those who are going out are looking for food.”

Food has been scarce since the violence broke out on Tuesday, given that many residents were forced to remain indoors. Meanwhile, more than 20,000 people, whose homes and shops were destroyed during the clashes, were still taking refuge in churches, mosques and military installations.

Armed forces (Abri) chief General Wiranto visited many of them on Friday to give food aid.

About 3,000 troops, with orders to shoot anyone carrying weapons and refusing to disarm, have been deployed to stop the violence.

Many of them were seen yesterday patrolling the streets and clearing the roads of stones, debris and burned vehicles, the result of riots which started following a dispute between a Muslim migrant and a local Christian public transport driver.

The violence later spread to Sulabesi and Seram island, just north of Ambon, and other surrounding areas. More than 140 people were injured, with 88 homes, three mosques and three churches torched in Ambon. Dozens of cars were also set alight.

Ambon police chief Colonel Karyono told The Sunday Times 47 people were killed in the violence and the death toll was likely to rise as troops pulled out more bodies from the rubble. Many were hacked to death.

Col Karyono said that despite a semblance of normalcy in Ambon, a military-imposed curfew in the island would continue given the attendant uncertainties. “The situation is still threatening,” he said.

Indeed, residents said that occasional gunshots by troops continued to underscore tension in the area as they attempted to confront mobs out to wreak havoc and victimise people.

Noted a hotel manager in Ambon who declined to be named: “We still hear of people roaming the streets and harassing innocent people. There are also shots being fired. There is no sense of security.”

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