Up to 12 dead in fresh religious clashes in Indonesia

JAKARTA, Aug 24 (AFP) - Fresh Moslem-Christian clashes in Indonesia's spice Moluccas islands have left up to 12 people dead, scores injured and several churches torched, sources and reports said Tuesday.

A member of the Church Advocacy team in Maluku's provincial capital of Ambon said about people nine died when Moslem mobs attacked nine churches in Seram island, in Central Maluku on Wednesday last week.

Other reports said up to 12 people were killed in religious violence over the weekend.

"Moslem mobs attacked six Christian hamlets simultaneously on Wednesday," Simon Noya of the Church Advocacy team told AFP by phone.

Churches were torched in the six hamlets, including five Protestant churches, two Roman Catholic and one Advent, he said.

Central Maluku district police chief Lieutenant Colonel Benny Vonbulow said as many as 12 people were killed and 40 injured during clashes in West Seram over the weekend, the Kompas daily reported.

News of the violence in the island province of Maluku only reached Ambon late on Monday as the area where it had occured is not covered by telephone network.

Vonbulow said police dispatched two companies of the elite police mobile brigade from Ambon to overcome the situation in West Seram.

Ambon and other islands in Maluku, known as the Spice Islands, were hit by months of Moslem-Christian violence at the start of the year which left more than 300 dead, drove tens of thousands to other provinces and caused widespread destruction.

Noya said the violence in West Seram was most intense Wednesday although it continued sporadically until Sunday.

He said the attack took place some 100 kilometers (62 miles) north of Ambon in the hamlets of Kawa, Loki, Wailisa, Seaputty, Olas and in the main town of Piru.

Moslems attacked and torched all homes and churches in the Christian hamlets, killing seven people in Wailisa on Wednesday and injuring five people in Loki.

The mob attacked another Ariate Christian hamlet on two separate days, Thursday and Sunday, leaving one person dead and 13 others injured.

Police failed to reach Ariate on Thursday after mobs set up roadblocks and fired shots at the reinformcements sent in from Salahutu sub-district town of Masohi, Noya said.

"It's not clear whether the ones who shot at the police were some of the villagers or other security officers who had been partial in their defense," he added.

Following the attack some of the refugees who had been hiding in Ariate left for Piru.

"We don't know exactly how many had fled and stayed," he added.

On Sunday some of the Christian residents in Ariate retaliated and attacked the Laala Moslem hamlet and torched some homes. The number of casualties and damage could not be immediately ascertained.

Meanwhile, troubles flared anew on Saturday when Moslem mobs torched shops in the city's Mardika area, Noya said, adding that security had shot four rioters.

A separate clash between residents and security members broke out late on Monday in the city's Air Salobar area of Pohon Mangga leaving two marine troops injured, Kompas said.

Maluku military information office's chief Lieutenant Colonel Iwa Kusuma confirmed the clash on Monday but could not elaborate on the number of casualties.

Police reports showed that the death toll in the Moslem-Christian violence in Maluku from July 24 to August 16 stood at 105, with the number of injured at over 400.

One soldier was among those killed and 35 others were among the injured.

"The number (of casualties) could grow bigger with the recent clashes. We're still waiting for updates," Iwa said.