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300 Die in Indonesia Clashes
The Associated Press
Thursday, Dec. 30, 1999; 5:30 a.m. EST
AMBON, Indonesia -- In the bloodiest religious violence in
Indonesia in decades, fighting over five days between
Christians and Muslims in the Spice Islands has killed more
than 300 people, officials and media said today. Fighting on
the island of Halmahera in North Maluku province broke out
Tuesday when 400 Christians attacked a Muslim village, said
Lt. Col. Iwa Budiman, spokesman for the local military
command. Some 250 people have been killed since, he said. In
the adjoining region of Maluku, 68 people, including three
soldiers, have been killed in sectarian clashes that broke out
Sunday, local newspaper Suara Maluku reported today. Fighting
in both areas abated today, although tensions remained high
throughout the scores of islands that make up the two
provinces. The combined death toll is the highest in a year of
savage fighting between Christians and Muslims in the two
provinces that were known as the Spice Islands during Dutch
colonial rule. Although the region used to be touted as a
model of interfaith relations in Indonesia, tensions date back
to 1950 when the Christians - many with ties to the Dutch
colonial administration - battled Indonesian troops in a bid
to secede from the predominantly Muslim nation. More recently,
animosity between the two groups was stoked by an influx of
Muslim migrants from other parts of the country. They have
upset the numerical balance between the two communities and
have come to dominate retail trading, siphoning off business
from the Christians. Today, in Maluku's capital, Ambon,
snipers remained active along the demarcation line in the
commercial district of this once-thriving port city.
Unidentified gunmen were seen sniping from the shore at ships
ferrying passengers to the local airport, located on the
opposite shore of Ambon bay.
In a bid to clear snipers who were targeting troops,
British-made Saladin armored cars fired 75 mm cannons directly
into buildings where the gunmen were hiding. Army officers
said two battalions of Indonesia's strategic reserve force -
known as Kostrad - had arrived to reinforce the thinly
stretched security forces. A battalion usually numbers 650
men. The Indonesian army has assumed control over all security
forces in the province, including the local police force.
Before this week's bloodshed, government statistics put the
death toll for the year at 800. Unofficial estimates said the
number was closer to 1,500. Christians in the embattled region
urged the United Nations today to act to prevent a full-scale
religious war.
"The United Nations must intervene to separate and protect the
two communities and ensure peace," said Chris Sahetopy, a
Christian member of the provincial assembly.
Other prominent Christian politicians and senior clergymen
appealed last month to U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan,
calling for foreign troops. Indonesian commanders in the two
provinces have urged that martial law be imposed.
But President Abdurrahman Wahid rejected on Wednesday calls
for a state of emergency. Wahid, who visited Ambon on Dec. 12,
also ruled out foreign intervention saying the conflict was an
internal affair.
© Copyright 1999 The Associated Press

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