Nine killed in new religious fighting in Indonesia

TERNATE, Indonesia - Security forces in Indonesia's remote Maluku islands struggled to contain fierce street battles Wednesday among Christian and Muslim gangs that killed nine people, including a police officer.

The sectarian violence that put the troops in the middle came a day after reports that between 108 and 176 people, most of them Christians, were massacred on Monday when thousands of Muslim fighters rampaged through the village of Duma with homemade weapons and bombs.

On Halmahera island, on which Duma is located, troops on Wednesday shot three people to death when a mob of 300 tried to attack a Muslim community to avenge the killings of Christians. One man was reported missing.

In Maluku's provincial capital, Ambon, two Christians and three Muslims were killed as mobs fought one another with homemade guns and swords.

The deputy chief of the city's paramilitary police force, Maj. Edi Susanto, was shot and killed in the melee, hospital officials said.

A police barracks Ambon in was set afire after terrified villagers tried to shelter inside from the violence. Two churches and many homes were also burned, witnesses said.

In the national capital, Jakarta, military commander Adm. Widodo Adisutjipto met President Abdurrahman Wahid and ordered more troops to the area. He also called for calm.

Defense Minister Juwono Sudarsono said forces trying to destabilize Wahid's 8-month-old government and derail Indonesia's painful transition to democracy were sponsoring gangs to cause trouble.

''They send their money through middlemen. So it is difficult to catch them,'' he told reporters.

Wednesday's violence was the latest round of religious killings in the Malukus, called the Spice Islands under Dutch colonial rule. More than 2,500 members of both faiths have been killed in the past 18 months across the archipelago, about 1,600 miles northeast of Jakarta.

In one of the worst incidents, as many as 4,000 Muslim fighters with homemade weapons and bombs along with some military-style weapons, rampaged through Duma on Monday.

Reports on that death toll varied on Wednesday as sectarian tensions rose.

A local Protestant clergyman named Hadi said as many as 176 people died, all of them Christians. Many Indonesians use only one name.

Other church workers said 152, mostly Christians, were killed and at least 234 injured. The military said 108 died, but refused to say what their religions were.

In December, hundreds of Muslims were slain by marauding Christian gangs and both sides have launched escalating revenge attacks since then.

Indonesia's military is defending itself for not better protecting Duma's people.

Outgoing Maluku military chief Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela said 30 troops stationed at the village did not fire on the attackers as they were vastly outnumbered.

''Imagine if the troops had opened fire. Many more would die,'' The Jakarta Post newspaper Wednesday quoted him as saying.

For more than three authoritarian decades Indonesia's military used force to keep a lid on ethnic and religious tensions across the sprawling Southeast Asian nation.

Since the ouster of President Suharto two years ago, the power of the armed forces has waned in the face of demands for greater democracy.

Some soldiers have been tried and imprisoned for human rights abuses in other parts of Indonesia and commanders have promised to reform their ranks.

On Wednesday the military said it had arrested six soldiers accused of taking sides in a separate case of sectarian violence on the central Indonesian island of Sulawesi last month when about 120 were killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians.


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