Mob kills 14 people in Ambon


Pre-dawn attack saw mostly Christians stabbed, burned.

A mob stabbed and burned to death 14 people in Indonesia’s strife-torn Maluku province yesterday, raising concerns of more sectarian bloodshed in the days ahead.

Any hope of restoring order quickly after a series of bomb explosions rocked the area days ago ended ominously when assailants in black masks and armed with daggers and bombs stormed the Christian-populated villages of Soiya and Ahoru in the capital Ambon.

Military sources said 14 people, mostly Christians and including women and children, were killed in the pre-dawn attack. They warned that the figure could rise given that 10 others were badly injured.

‘We think that the problems are going to get worse because no one is interested in resolving problems peacefully,’ said a senior military official.

The killings came two days after a militant Islamic group, Laskar Jihad, rejected a peace deal signed in February to end three years of fighting between Christians and Muslims in the region that has so far left 5,000 dead.

Reports quoted Christian pastor Cornelius Bohm of the Ambon Christian Crisis Centre as saying: ‘It may be the end of the peace deal. There is no doubt that it was Laskar Jihad.’

Indeed, problems appeared to have worsened after the mysterious arrival last Thursday of the Laskar Jihad leader Jaafar Umar Thalib in Ambon on the eve of the anniversary of the founding of the separatist South Maluku Republic (RMS).

The predominantly Christian separatist group flew its independence flags then, angering Muslims who responded by burning down a partially rebuilt church and threatening to resume attacks on Christians.

Jaafar, who has been accused of fanning the violence in the province, has openly declared war on the RMS, urging crowds in mosques to take up arms against the Christians.

The situation in Ambon remained tense yesterday as police searched burned-out homes for more bodies. Some 30 houses and a Protestant church were set ablaze during the mob frenzy.

Security forces also fired warning shots to disperse a crowd watching the RMS flags being hoisted.

Observers said that the concern now was a spate of tit-for-tat attacks by both sides in the coming days.

The Indonesian armed forces (TNI) continued to come in for strong criticism for doing little to keep peace in the region. Troops, poorly organised and demoralised, have been accused of openly taking sides with rival camps. It has also been complicated by rivalry between police and military forces.

While the problems in the Malukus has its roots in local factors and the wider breakdown in law and order in Indonesia, some believe that disaffected generals are also conspiring to keep the conflict going for economic and political reasons.

The Straits Times understands that one retired senior military officer is being investigated by intelligence authorities for smuggling in arms for use by rival groups in sectarian clashes.

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