Skip to comments.Indonesia: 14 killed as Muslims, Christians clash (Muslims burn Xian churches and homes)
Posted on 04/26/2004 6:08:10 PM PDT by ambrose
Apr. 26, 2004 10:21
Indonesia: 14 killed as Muslims, Christians clash
By ASSOCIATED PRESS AMBON, Indonesia
Gangs of Muslims and Christians clashed as mobs set fire to houses and a church Monday in violence that has left at least 14 people dead in two days in Indonesia's eastern Maluku islands, hospital officials and witnesses said.
Police rushed reinforcements to the provincial capital Ambon, where at least 10 people were killed Sunday and up to 100 injured. On Monday, four of the injured died and additional 20 were wounded, hospital officials said.
The new fighting comes as politicians campaign for presidential elections in July.
It is shaping up as to one of the bloodiest outbreaks of violence in the Malukus, known previously as the Moluccan or Spice Islands, since a peace deal in 2002 that ended two years of religious violence in which 9,000 people perished.
The unrest in 2002 attracted Muslim militants from all over Indonesia and Southeast Asia. Many of them later joined the al-Qaida linked terror group Jemaah Islamiyah, which was blamed for the 2002 Bali bombings.
On Monday, gangs of Muslims and Christians fought in the Talake neighborhood of the provincial capital, Ambon, witnesses said. Gunfire and several explosions were heard, and a mob set alight a building belonging to a Christian-run university in the district.
Muslim mobs burnt several Christian homes in the city, said C.J. Bohm, a local Christian leader. Most of the homes were empty because their inhabitants had fled late Sunday.
"I think it will get worse," said Bohm, who has been a vocal proponent of peace between the two communities. "They (the Christians) can't defend themselves and the security forces are very weak."
Sunday's clashes occurred after several members of the region's small Christian separatist movement rallied in Ambon. Public displays of support by the group are regarded as a provocation by local Muslims.
Indonesia is predominantly Muslim, but Maluku's 2 million people are evenly divided between Muslims and Christians.
Most of the Muslims moved to the Malukus from other islands in the 1970s and 80s under the Suharto dictatorship's migration program in order to dilute the region's largely Christian secessionist movement.
The Malukus: From religious harmony to violence
The Malukus are 2,600 kilometers east of Jakarta. Known as the Spice Islands during Dutch colonial days, the Malukus were once held up as a model of religious harmony.
Soon after it erupted in 1999, the conflict intensified with the arrival of volunteers belonging to Laskar Jihad, or Holy War Troops, a newly created militia from Indonesia's main island of Java.
Analysts and diplomats accused senior army commanders loyal to former dictator Suharto for funding and training the militia in order to create trouble for reformist administrations that followed his ouster in 1998.
Although Laskar Jihad's leaders were close to the military - which on occasion provided the militiamen with fire support - some of the rank and file were radical Muslims who later joined Jemaah Islamiyah.
Laskar Jihad itself was hastily disbanded in the wake of the Bali attacks, the worst terrorist atrocity since September 11, 2002, after public attention focused on its ties with hard-line generals.
Many Christians in the Malukus blame the government for not investigating those links and for not bringing to justice generals held responsible for the bloodshed.