Scores missing and feared dead in Ambon

INDONESIA IN TRANSITION

Many Christian villagers in the riot-torn eastern Indonesian island are not with their families after a mob of Muslims went on rampage last week.

SCORES of Christians in the strife-torn island of Ambon are missing and feared dead following an attack on their village by a mob of Muslims seeking revenge for earlier clashes.

Catholic priest Father Agus Ulhanaya told The Straits Times yesterday that initial checks by military and church authorities in the village of Telagakodok, the worst-hit area during last week’s violence in Ambon, indicated that many villagers were not with their families.

“We can’t find a lot of people,” he said.

“They might have gone into hiding and seeking refuge elsewhere or in the worst-case scenario they could have been massacred during the clashes.

“It is difficult as this point to suggest they have been killed because we have yet to find their bodies.” Others in Ambon are less optimistic and fear the worst.

The New York Times yesterday quoted Reverand Cornelius Bohm, a Dutch-born priest, as saying that at least 40 Christians, including women and children, were killed in Telagakodok, which is 48 km north of Ambon.

He said that the attack occurred after Muslims from the Hitu, Hila and Mamoala villages nearby learned that mosques had been burned in Ambon at the start of clashes last Tuesday.

The rioters torched a Catholic church and two Protestant churches during the orgy of violence. They also attacked the nearby villages of Negri Lama and Nania.

Rev Bohm said that all the victims were Christians. They were decapitated or speared and hacked to death.

Father Agus, who is working closely with the armed forces (Abri) and local officials to trace missing victims, said that a clearer picture of the death toll in Indonesia’s worst violence since the May riots would emerge later this week.

Ambon’s police chief, Colonel Karyono, said that at least 60 people were killed in the clashes.

Military sources in Ambon told The Straits Times that the number could be higher given that more bodies were still to be recovered.

More than 3,000 Abri personnel, many from the elite Strategic Reserve Command (Kostrad), have been deployed in Ambon. Besides being tasked with restoring order, soldiers and policemen were also clearing the rubble from gutted and damaged buildings to uncover more victims.

An uneasy calm has returned to the once-bustling port town as some residents resumed work. Supermarkets and stalls also re-opened and were packed with customers looking for staples.

A hotel manager who declined to be named said that residents in Ambon, the capital of the Moluccas islands, were “still suffering from a state of shock”.

“This has never happened to us before,” she said.

“It is the new and ugly face of Indonesia.”

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