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Deaths in Ambon hit 18, fresh clashes AMBON - Fresh clashes erupted on Monday between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia's eastern city of Ambon and the interior minister said the death toll from weekend violence had risen to 18. Residents said they could hear sporadic gunfire across the Moluccas provincial capital as police and army reinforcements arrived in the city. It was not clear who was firing.
"Up until now, the death toll is 18 people, while 107 others are still being treated at four hospitals. Around 200 houses were burned down and the situation is still tense," Interior Minister Hari Sabarno told reporters. Mobs set fire to several buildings in one neighbourhood and to part of a Christian university in the fresh unrest. Shops were closed and public transport was scarce. The state news agency Antara said 131 people were wounded.
Sabarno did not specify if more people had been killed on Monday or if the rising toll was a result of fatalities among those wounded on Sunday. A local newspaper said most of those killed had been shot. The violence comes as politicians campaign for Indonesia's first direct presidential election in July and is the worst communal fighting since warring factions signed a peace deal in February 2002 to end three years of clashes that killed 5,000.
The government of the world's most populous Muslim nation only lifted civil emergency curbs in the Moluccas last September following the sectarian conflict, which drew Muslim militants from groups such as the al Qaeda-linked Jemaah Islamiah, a Southeast Asian network blamed for numerous terror attacks.

Troops sent in

Police have sent in at least 200 reinforcements. "We are setting up roadblocks, putting men in between the residential areas and making an inventory of total losses," said deputy national police spokesman Soenarko Danu Ardanto. Sabarno said an additional 200 police and two army battalions would fly to the city on Monday and Tuesday. Residents from Muslim and Christian communities, which had been starting to reintegrate, were now wary of passing through each other's neighbourhoods, they said.
Sabarno insisted the violence was not sparked by religion. "This is not a religious matter because it stemmed from the separatist commemoration and there was a group loyal to the Republic of Indonesia showing resistance to such a movement." Sunday's clashes began after police arrested and then released people trying to raise the banned flag of a little known and mostly Christian rebel group, the South Moluccas Republic Movement (RMS), on the anniversary of a failed independence bid 54 years ago.
More than 20 RMS supporters were being questioned by police in Ambon, 2,300 km (1,400 miles) east of Jakarta. Sabarno said eight had been named as suspects. A U.N. office in Ambon was among several buildings set ablaze on Sunday by mobs wielding machetes, knives and homemade guns. None of the 27 Indonesians working for the United Nations in Ambon was hurt but cars were burnt. U.N. official Caroline Tupamahu said she did not expect staff to be evacuated.
Thamrin Amal Tomagola, an expert on the Moluccas at the University of Indonesia, said the United Nations was seen by some Muslims as partial to Christians. "(But) the real trigger was the complacency of the Moluccas police. They should have anticipated that every April 25, RMS supporters celebrate the group's anniversary," he said. Some 85 percent of Indonesia's 220 million people are Muslim. In some eastern areas, however, Christian and Muslim populations are about equal in size.
Incidents involving the South Moluccas Republic Movement have been the trigger for violence before. But it has a very small following, unlike Indonesia's separatist provinces of Aceh and Papua, where demands for independence are widespread.



Posted in Maluku conflict @ 26 April 2004 00:03 CET by Jeroen · 'Blog' RSS feed · permalink






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