AMBON, Indonesia (Reuters) - Sun Apr 28. Armed attackers raided a Christian neighborhood in Indonesia's ravaged city of Ambon Sunday killing 12 people and raising fresh doubts about the chances for peace in the troubled Moluccas region.
"The attack broke out early Sunday in Soya village of Ambon city. They attacked the village by using home-made bombs and set fire to some of the houses," said a local journalist who went to the scene. The reporter cited residents as saying the pre-dawn attackers were Muslim and there were dozens of them.
He counted 11 dead, but a second witness who had been to the site said he saw at least 12 bodies, and Indonesia's official Antara news agency gave the same figure and said six people were wounded. The second witness said residents reported some of the attackers were armed with military weapons and wearing camouflage-style uniforms. The military denied any involvement in the attack. "The people should understand that any rioters could use TNI (Indonesia's military) attributes. Such action is an effort to discredit the TNI,"
Antara quoted a military spokesman, Herry Suhardy, as saying. Indonesia has suffered from a series of religious, ethnic and separatist conflicts since the autocratic Suharto (news - web sites) resigned from the presidency in 1998, bringing tensions to the surface that were largely restrained by his iron-fisted rule.
Sunday's incident is the latest in several days of fresh trouble in Ambon, undercutting hopes a peace deal brokered between Muslims and Christians in February would finally bring an end to the strife. 5,000 DEAD Antara said a "mass" of assailants was involved in Sunday's raid and it quoted residents describing them as clad in black and wielding swords and firing guns. Dozens of police and troops had been deployed to secure the area and most of the fires had died out by dawn.
Moluccas police chief Brigadier-General Sunarko Danu Artanto confirmed the attack and said there were casualties, but declined to give a toll and details.
Another police official said one church was burned in the raid. Over the past three years, at least 5,000 people have been killed in religious violence in Ambon, some 2,300 km (1,400 miles) east of Jakarta, and in the Moluccas islands of which it is the hub.
Some of the violence has involved para-military units affiliated with various Muslim and Christian groups. Security forces fired warning shots Saturday to disperse protesting Muslims in the city, wounding one person in a virtual replay of a similar episode Friday. Security forces also dispersed a crowd of at least 1,000 Christians Saturday in another part of the city.
The week's turbulence was sparked by an anniversary on Thursday of an independence declaration by the South Moluccas Republic (RMS), a Christian separatist group, that attempted to raise its banned independence flag in several areas of the city.
The RMS was founded in 1950 by supporters of Indonesia's former colonial ruler, the Netherlands. While its membership has dwindled to an estimated 100, many Islamic groups accuse it of backing attacks on Muslims. A Jakarta analyst originally from the Moluccas warned that Sunday's violence may attract more sympathizers to the RMS. "Not all of the Christians support RMS but I am afraid following the attack there will be more Christians signing up," sociologist Thamrin Amal Tomagola told Reuters.
He said there had been attempts to blow up the separatism issue in the Moluccas following the signing of the peace pact, which had brought a brief respite to religious conflict there.
"Once the separatist (group) grows larger then it will give the security forces legitimacy to keep their presence in Ambon to crush them." Tomagola said some elements in the security forces have benefited from the violence and would not be happy to see the conflict end. Critics say some corrupt members of the security forces take what is effectively protection money from various people, groups and businesses in strife-torn areas like Ambon. More than 85 percent of Indonesia's 210 million people are Muslim, but Christians comprise half the population in some eastern areas, such as the Moluccan island chain.