Riots hit Ambon again

VIOLENCE erupted in strife-torn Ambon again yesterday after eight people were gunned down or killed by homemade arrows and machetes during a protracted battle between Christians and Muslims and security forces trying to quell the riots.

Military sources in the eastern Indonesian island told The Straits Times that troops opened fire on a crowd as they tried to restore order after mobs went on a rampage, attacking and burning shops, houses and churches.

“Troops were ordered to shoot on sight because the situation began to get worse. There were just too many people crowding on the streets and waiting to stir up trouble,” said an Abri officer at an operations command post in Ambon.

But he could not verify the number of people who were wounded or killed.

The national Antara news agency yesterday reported that at least three people were shot dead. It said that a homemade arrow killed one other person.

There was no official confirmation of how the four others died. Witnesses in Ambon said that some were hacked or burnt to death in buildings that were torched.

AFP reported that 11 people had died in two days of raging sectarian violence, though the figure is expected to rise considerably given that many were injured seriously by gunshot wounds and more bodies had yet to be recovered. Additional troops were flown in last night given the increasing prospect of more riots in the next few days.

The violence comes just a month after more than 160 died in several days of rioting which turned the once bustling town into a war zone.

A hotel manager there told The Straits Times that tension was still high with deep suspicion among the divided Christian and Muslim communities. Troops were also taking sides in the conflict.

She said that church workers had disclosed to her that one of the dead was a pastor who was shot by troops inside the church compound.

Scores of people, meanwhile, were taking refuge in military installations. The continued sectarian violence also triggered an exodus from the capital of the Moluccas.

Meanwhile, in Jakarta, the political temperature began to heat up yesterday as almost 1,000 university students took to the streets in trucks and motorcycles in the biggest demonstration since December, calling on President B. J. Habibie to step down.

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