Fresh religious clashes in Ambon


FRESH Christian-Muslim clashes erupted in strife-torn Ambon yesterday as the military prepared to send another 1,000 troops to the eastern Indonesian island.

According to an AFP report, fighting between the two communities, marked by petrol bomb attacks and stabbing incidents, rocked at least two areas of the island.

The news agency said the clashes hit the Ambon Ahuru and Wai Hong neighbourhoods early in the day. Unknown groups were reported to have staged petrol bomb attacks which were followed by the burning of homes and fighting among residents.

Meanwhile a Reuters report quoted witnesses as saying that nine people, all Muslims, were gunned down in Ambon by police without warning as they were leaving a mosque after morning prayers.

“Suddenly we were attacked by police. They were Christians,” the report quoted a witness at the Al-Huda mosque.A later report that cited local journalists put the death toll in the incident at four.

The journalists said the incident happened around dawn as Christians attacked the area, prompting Muslims to fight back. Security forces then came and opened fire.

Police spokesman Brigadier-General Togar Sianipar, replying to queries from reporters in Jakarta, denied that the security forces were taking sides in the fighting along religious lines.

“Up to now, the armed forces are still solid,” Reuters quoted him as saying.

He disclosed that six people were tortured to death after clashes with machetes and spears broke out in Ambon late on Sunday afternoon.

The Straits Times could not obtain confirmation of the incident near the mosque from residents in Ambon, but church sources said that it was highly likely, as the “green light” had been given to soldiers to crack down on rioters “in an unhindered manner”.

Reverend Max Siahayan, head of the Protestant churches in Ambon, said that the local government had agreed with the armed forces (Abri) on Saturday “to go on the offensive against rioters and trouble makers”, given the pressure to stem the growing violence.

He said: “It is like this. If Christians attack Muslims, Christians will get shot. If the Muslims attack Christians, the Muslims will get killed.

“The problem for the soldier on the field is how to distinguish the Christian from the Muslim and the rioter from an innocent bystander.”

Highlighting this, he pointed to an incident that took place in the predominantly Christian Ahuru village, 20 km from the city centre.

Troops opened fire there yesterday shooting at least two innocent people.

Meanwhile, Abri chief General Wiranto approved a plan to send another 1,000 troops to the troubled area, which is experiencing the country’s worst sectarian violence in 15 years.

There are currently about 1,400 soldiers, many from the elite Army Strategic Reserve Command unit, in Ambon.

The national Antara news agency quoted Colonel Karel Ralahalu, the chief of the Pattimura district command, as saying that a Bell helicopter would be used to deploy some of these troops in remote places close to Ambon.

Some of the troops would be used to rebuild facilities devastated by the unrest in the area.

Nearly 200 people have died during the riots that began in January and resumed with vengeance in the last week, resulting in a continuing exodus of people from the region.

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