Skip to comments.Indonesia troops try to quell Ambon unrest, toll 30
Posted on 04/27/2004 7:27:14 AM PDT by Valin
AMBON, Indonesia (Reuters) - Snipers killed one policeman and wounded two in Indonesia's strife-torn Ambon on Tuesday as police and soldiers patrolled the streets to restore order, officials and witnesses said.
The death toll from clashes between Christian and Muslim residents rose to 30, police said, but most of the deaths were from fighting on Sunday, and there were signs the violence in the capital of the eastern Moluccas islands was easing.
But in comments that could stoke tension, defunct militant Muslim organisation Laskar Jihad threatened to regroup and send fighters. Laskar Jihad sent several thousand fighters to the Moluccas in mid-2000, fanning a sectarian war already in full swing.
"It's still tense in some spots, but less so than yesterday. We can hear gunfire but it's not often," said Endro Prasetyo, police spokesman for the Moluccas islands.
Three policemen from the Jakarta mobile brigade were shot on Tuesday in one of the neighbourhoods that has seen the worst fighting, police and witnesses said. One died, said Prasetyo.
The Indonesian government has sent 400 police and two army battalions to restore peace in Ambon. The violence has wounded about 150 people, officials say.
The United Nations said 44 local staff and their families were leaving Ambon on Tuesday. A U.N. office was among several buildings burnt when the violence erupted on Sunday.
Analysts said complacency was partly to blame for the unrest, which stemmed from an event that has long created tension in a region still traumatised by three years of widespread fighting that killed 5,000 people before a peace deal was signed in early 2002.
The latest clashes began after police arrested 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.
"The current conflict came about because of police complacency and competition among security forces over territory, between individuals in the police and the army," said defence analyst Kusnanto Anggoro in Jakarta.
"Containment of this flare-up will depend on how that problem is resolved. I don't believe this is coincidental."
MILITANT GROUP RAISES ANTE
That might hinge on keeping groups such as Laskar Jihad out of Ambon.
In a news conference in Jakarta, the former leader of the defunct Java-based organisation, Jafar Umar Thalib, warned the government to stop the unrest and deal with the rebel movement.
"If the government is incapable of dealing with RMS, I will be forced to command the Laskar Jihad to join Muslim forces in facing the RMS," Thalib said.
Thalib said no Laskar Jihad fighters were in Ambon, but they were ready to go. Laskar Jihad disbanded about 18 months ago.
On Monday, violence was concentrated in two mixed neighbourhoods where scores of houses and a university were set ablaze. The incident prompted shops to close and halted transport in several parts of the city.
Despite the sniper shooting, Ambon was largely free of the street battles and arson of the past two days.
Many shops and government offices had reopened.
An official from the United Nations Development Programme said U.N. staff could return when security improved. The U.N. has been involved in reconciliation and rebuilding efforts.
"It's not an evacuation, it's a voluntary, temporary relocation of staff," the official said.
With additional reporting by Achmad Sukarsono, Telly Nathalia and Olivia Rondonuwu in Jakarta