Christians, Muslims clash in Indonesia, as many as 160 killed

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Muslim fighters attacked a Christian village, leaving at least 116 people dead, in what Christians said Tuesday was a massacre on a remote island in eastern Indonesia.

Police said 108 Christians and eight Muslims died in the fighting Monday in the village of Duma, on Halmahera island about 1,600 miles northeast of Jakarta.

Unconfirmed claims by church workers said as many as 160 people, including 152 Christians and eight Muslims, were killed, making the carnage one of the worst incidents on record in a long-running sectarian conflict in the Maluku islands.

The Muslim fighters were armed with military-style weapons, police said, as well as bows and arrows. Christian residents fought back with homemade guns or fled into a forest. The clash lasted for about one hour, they said.

The official Antara news agency said 150 people were wounded and 292 homes and a church were burned.

It was the latest outbreak in an 18-month religious feud on the Maluku islands, also known as the Moluccas - or, during Dutch colonial times, as the Spice Islands - in which more than 2,500 people have been killed.

''It was a massacre by Muslims,'' said Father Hadi, a Protestant clergyman, based in the nearby town of Tobelo.

Sartje Wasapapuling, an official at the Evangelical Christian Church in Tobelo, cited local clergy as saying the Christian death toll was 152.

She said there were fears for the safety of some Christian women and children who had been taken away by Muslims.

Maj. Puguh, an army officer based in the North Maluku provincial capital, Ternate, said soldiers and marines dispersed the warring gangs, Antara reported. However, the situation on Halmahera remained tense Tuesday.

Wounded victims had been evacuated to Tobelo, about 21 miles north of Duma, said Puguh, who like many Indonesians uses only one name. At least two soldiers had been wounded, witnesses said.

Hadi said fleeing villagers from Duma had told him that about 500 Muslim fighters in black and white uniforms descended upon their homes.

''It was a very quick attack. They had automatic rifles but the Christians only had homemade weapons,'' he said.

Hadi said about 1,000 mainly Christians live permanently in Duma, but its population during recent weeks swelled by 2,000 as people fled continued violence in the surrounding countryside.

Hadi said there were only about 30 soldiers on duty in the village and they were unable to stop the violence until the military reinforcements arrived.

Local Muslim groups were not immediately available for comment.

The violence shows no sign of abating in the Maluku islands despite repeated peace efforts by Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid, a respected Muslim cleric who espouses religious tolerance.

Earlier this month, Pope John Paul II urged Indonesia's leaders to do more to stop the carnage.

About 90 percent of Indonesia's 210 million people are Muslim, making it the world's most populous Islamic country.

Christians, however, are a majority in the Maluku islands, which had been renowned for its religious tolerance before sectarian violence broke out in January 1999.

Some blame the conflict on economic and social pressure from an increasing numbers of Muslim settlers from other parts of the sprawling Southeast Asian nation.

Several months ago an Islamic group, calling itself Laskar Jihad, or ''Holy War Force,'' was accused of dispatching more than 2,000 Islamic paramilitary troops into Maluku.

It was not immediately clear whether any of it members were involved in Monday's violence.


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