Fighting flares for fourth day in Ambon

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Fierce fighting between Muslims and Christians flared for a fourth day in the capital of the Maluku Islands on Saturday, leaving at least six people dead, officials said.

Five Muslims and at least one Christian soldier were killed when gangs of each faith exchanged gunfire and fought with swords and spears early in the day in Ambon.

The street battle took place not far from a police complex that was set on fire when fighting erupted Wednesday.

Saturday's deaths brought to at least 41 the number of people killed in four days, including four soldiers and two policemen. Twenty-two people died Friday.

Police feared further bloodshed, having reported that rioters broke into a police armory and stole weapons and uniforms on Wednesday.

On Monday, Muslim fighters killed more than 100 Christians in Duma on Halmahera Island. Thousands of Islamic vigilantes from a group known as the Laksar Jihad, or Holy War Front, took part in that attack - one of the worst attacks since the sectarian fighting in the Maluku Islands started 18 months ago.

Almost 3,000 people have been killed since the conflict began in January 1999. An influx of Muslim migrants taking over retail and transport businesses from Christians has fueled animosities.

On Friday, President Abdurrahman Wahid banned travel by outsiders to the islands, about 1,500 miles northeast of Jakarta.

Wahid said provocateurs were being paid by wealthy individuals in Jakarta to create mayhem in the Maluku Islands, also known during Dutch colonial days as the Moluccas or Spice Islands.

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono promised to increase security in the region, and has blamed outsiders for much of the trouble. He claimed supporters of former President Suharto were fanning the violence in a campaign to destabilize Wahid's 8-month-old, reform-minded government.

Suharto ruled Indonesia with an iron fist for 32 years, before he was unseated by riots and protests in May 1998. During his time in power, Suharto used military might to crush religious and ethnic unrest.

Now, with the armed forces under pressure for committing past human rights abuses, many say it is not doing enough to quell the fighting in Maluku.


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