Fresh violence breaks out in Maluku, three dead
AMBON, Maluku (JP): After months of tense calm, violence returned to Maluku with the murder of three villagers following attacks by groups of gunmen in the Buru islands early on Thursday.
The armed attackers, numbering hundreds of people, raided the predominantly Christian village of Waimulang on Buru island in the province of Maluku. They launched land and sea assaults at around 7 a.m. local time, officials said.
The rioters vandalized and burned down almost all 350 houses in the village, while over 1,000 residents were forced to flee to the jungle for safety.
Police chief Brig. Yopi Tutupari, a member of Leksula Police, radioed authorities in Maluku's capital of Ambon and said that the security personnel were outnumbered by attackers arriving inat least 14 vessels at Pasir Putih beach near the village.
Armed attackers also launched assaults from the western part of the village, the officer said.
Three villagers died in the attacks while the status of at least 13 military officers from the Armed VIII unit who were trapped during the incident is still unknown. Three police officers and two military personnel from the Armed VIII unit managed to escape the fray unharmed.
A number of representatives from South Buru, led by John Lestusa, met with the Maluku civil emergency authorities and protested the sluggish handling of the incident. Civil emergency status was imposed in Maluku and North Maluku provinces in May 2000.
"We are very concerned about this incident. More than 1,000 people are now hiding in jungles and cannot return home because rioters occupied their village," John said.
People were distressed because the strike triggered chaos amid the restabilized situation in Maluku, John added.
Civil emergency official, who is also Maluku deputy governor, Paula Renyaan, along with legal officer Muhammad Ely, informed that Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. Mustopo had deployed troops to the village to remove rioters.
"We have also received reports stating that there were 15 military personnel from the Armed VIII Unit and three police officers in the area when the rioters launched the strikes. But 13 of those military officers are still missing. We don't know whether they survived and managed to get out of there or are being held captive by the rioters," Paula said.
Paula also promised to send an investigation team from the civil emergency authority to review the incident.
Conflicts in both Maluku and North Maluku provinces -- which were formerly just one province -- broke out on Jan. 19, 1999 following a petty dispute between migrants and locals in Ambon, the capital of Maluku.
The dispute quickly degenerated into a full-scale riot involving Muslim and Christian communities, which claimed at least 8,000 lives and drove more than 500,000 people away from their homes. (49/edt)