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Refugees Claim Spice Islands Deaths
By Irwan Firdaus
Associated Press Writer
Wednesday, Jan. 5, 2000; 2:41 p.m. EST
AMBON, Indonesia -- Refugees fleeing violence between
Christian and Muslim militias in Indonesia's eastern islands
said hundreds of people were killed in fighting Tuesday and
Wednesday. More than 10,000 people have reportedly been forced
to flee their homes, and official estimates say about 500
people have been killed in the past 10 days. Unconfirmed
reports put that much higher.
Refugees say thousands of soldiers have poured in to try to
quell the fighting on both Halmahera and Seram islands, about
1,600 miles east of the capital Jakarta. Famiya Rerefy, 25,
said many towns on Halmahera were nearly deserted. She fled to
Ambon, the capital of Maluku province, after Christian mobs
set fire to her house. "I had to flee," she said. "Even with
the soldiers there, I didn't feel safe." The official Antara
news agency said thousands of refugees fled Wednesday, many of
whom claimed hundreds of people had been killed in the past 24
Parliamentary speaker Amien Rais told reporters in Jakarta
that Christian militias were "ethnically cleansing" Muslims in
Maluku and North Maluku provinces, formerly known as the Spice
Islands. Maluku military chief Max Tamaela confirmed the
clashes on Halmahera island but denied reports of mass
killings. "Don't believe the rumors of a massacre," he told
The Associated Press. "It was just normal fighting between the
two sides." While the military struggles to regain control of
the outer islands, soldiers in Ambon continued a massive sweep
of the port town searching for homemade weapons. Although the
violence there had subsided, there were still occasional
On Wednesday, residents found the headless body of a police
sergeant in a city suburb, police said. Indonesia's armed
forces chief Adm. Widodo said there were 12 battalions of
soldiers and marines in the two provinces and the military was
ready to send more if the fighting continued. The violence has
contributed to the first serious rifts within the
administration of new President Abdurrahman Wahid. Analysts
warn that if the conflict is not contained, sectarian clashes
may soon spread to other regions in the nation.
In Jakarta, 3,000 Muslim demonstrators threatened on Wednesday
to declare a holy war against Indonesia's Christian minority
unless the fighting is immediately stopped.
And the Vatican's envoy to Indonesia, Renzo Frepini, met with
Wahid on Wednesday to demand the government put an immediate
stop to the fighting, said a presidential palace official who
spoke on condition of anonymity. Meanwhile, Minister for
Political Affairs and Security Gen. Wiranto said Wednesday
that Indonesia may soon dismantle laws institutionalizing
discrimination against the ethnic Chinese minority.
The Chinese, who are mainly Christians or Buddhists, make up a
tiny fraction of Indonesia's 210 million people. They are,
however, prominent in business and industry and are often the
target of popular resentment. Chinese-owned businesses have
regularly been targeted in times of anti-government unrest.
Since the early 1950s, ethnic Chinese have been forced to
adopt Indonesian-sounding names before being granted
citizenship. Other laws made it illegal to teach Chinese
language in schools and banned the use of Chinese text.
© Copyright 2000 The Associated Press

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