Military appeals for calm in Ambon

Airforce helicopters drop leaflets calling for restraint as Abri chief hits out at agent provocateurs for nation’s worst violence since the May riots.

THE Indonesian airforce yesterday dropped thousands of leaflets over the riot-torn island of Ambon, appealing for peace as military chief General Wiranto lashed out at agent provocateurs for the country’s worst violence since the May riots.

Ambon Governor M.S. Latuconsina, speaking through a loud-hailer from an airforce helicopter, pleaded with the people in this eastern Indonesian town “to end the bloodshed and live in peace”.

As he spoke, the military aircraft dropped the leaflets calling for restraint, after five days of clashes between Christians andMuslims killed more than 50 people.

A few of the many residents, who have remained indoors since the violence broke out on Tuesday, ended their painful vigil by coming out to the streets to pick up the white leaflets from roads still littered with debris, stones and burnt cars, witnesses told The Straits Times.

But a large number continued to stay at home, too scared to even go to church despite a heavy security presence in this predominantly Christian city and capital of the Moluccus islands.

More than 3,000 armed forces (Abri) personnel from the local military, the elite Strategic Reserve Command, and mobile brigade police units, were still patrolling the city, which now resembles a war zone.

They were clearing the rubble and looking for more bodies.

Troops were also seen guarding mosques, churches and military installations, many of which were used as refuge for thousands of people hit by the riots.

Reuters news agency quoted an Abri official as saying that most of the 20,000 terrified residents in these places had now returned home.

Most of them travelled in trucks provided by the military for their own safety.

Gunshots could still be heard periodically as soldiers tried to disband gangs and hoodlums from committing further violence.

Gen Wiranto, who visited the area on Friday, said yesterday that the Ambon riots were sparked off by a fight between criminals.

But this was exploited by agent provocateurs trying to drive a wedge between ethnic and religious groups in society.

“Their actions are irresponsible and consequences devastating for lives and property,” he said.

He ordered the regional commander, Major-General Amir Sembiring, to investigate and arrest those responsible for the clashes.

Ambon’s police chief, Colonel Karyono, told The Straits Times that they were investigating the possibility of a third party involvement in the riots.

But he maintained that the military had yet to come up with any evidence.

The implosion in Ambon is the latest in a wave of violence to rock Indonesia as it fights its worst political and economic crisis in three decades.

The fighting struck a raw nerve and sent shock waves in the government and military, given the pronounced nature of conflict between Christians and Muslims.

Such clashes appear to be on an upward trend, as other areas in Indonesia experience similar social and political tremors.

Analysts said that Ambon had long boasted a reputation of being free from ethnic and religious violence, a disease that was known to afflict mainly the political hotbed of Java and other islands.

But the problems in Ambon could be a harbinger of things to expect for Indonesia in the coming months.

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