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42 Die in Sectarian Clashes in Indonesia

December 28, 1999|From Times Wire Services

AMBON, Indonesia — Rival mobs of Muslims and Christians clashed in Indonesia's troubled Spice Islands on Monday, killing at least 42 people, witnesses said.

The main church in the provincial capital was set on fire, as was a mosque.

Medical authorities said 29 people had died on the Muslim side and 13 on the Christian side.

The violence, which erupted Sunday evening after a bus driven by a Christian struck a Muslim pedestrian, continued early Monday but had calmed considerably by midday. Security forces patrolled the streets, some on foot, others riding in armored cars.

According to official statistics, about 750 people have been killed this year in a series of sectarian clashes in the province of Maluku, known as the Spice Islands during Dutch colonial times.

Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid visited Ambon earlier this month and called for peace and religious tolerance. However, since then nearly 90 people have been killed.

Maluku is one of several regions in Indonesia where violent ethnic, religious and separatist conflicts have been aggravated by political turmoil and the worst economic crisis in three decades.

In the latest clash, rival mobs used guns, slingshots and homemade bombs. The fighting broke out at Trikora Square in the center of Ambon, a port city about 1,500 miles east of Jakarta.

Indonesian troops intervened and tried to separate the warring factions by erecting barbed wire roadblocks. When the mobs bypassed the barriers, the troops opened fire with automatic weapons, witnesses said.

Scores of shops were burned along with the city's largest church and a nearby mosque. Most of the victims reportedly died in the arson or fighting.

Oren Murphy, an American aid worker in Ambon, said he saw two dead at Baktirahayu hospital on the Christian side. Nine were reportedly taken to another hospital.

"I saw troops fire many times into the crowds. Bullets were whizzing over our heads," said Murphy, from Waldoboro, Maine.

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