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Dozens wounded, homes damaged in Ambon clash

Antara News - December 14, 2011

Ambon, Maluku – A flare-up of violence in the restive city of Ambon on Monday night left dozens of people injured and several homes badly damaged.

The incident stemmed from long-running animosity between residents of two neighborhoods separated by the Batu Gajah River, which boiled over at around 11 p.m. on Monday when the residents began trading insults and throwing fireworks at each other across the river.

Adj. Sr. Comr. J. Huwae, the Maluku Police spokesman, said a brawl then broke out as more incendiary devices were thrown, igniting several homes.

Riot personnel from the police's Mobile Brigade were deployed to the scene to break up the fight, he said, along with reinforcements from the army. They fired several warning shots in the air to disperse the residents.

Huwae said several people were injured, suffering bruises and lacerations from arrow shots, while one person sustained a gunshot wound to the chest.

"Eleven of the wounded people were taken to Al Fatah Hospital and four were taken to Sumber Hidup Hospital for a range of injuries," the spokesman said. "The gunshot victim is being treated at Dr. Haulussy General Hospital."

It was not immediately clear whether the victim, identified as 22-year-old Refelino Mahulete, was shot by security forces or by other residents. "After the brawl, we combed through the scene of the incident and found two Molotov cocktails, 20 arrows and a slingshot," Huwae said.

He added that although no firearms had been found, police were aware of their presence in the area and would carry out raids. No one has yet been arrested or named a suspect for sparking the brawl.

Adj. Sr. Comr. Soeharwiyono, the Ambon Police chief, said he believed the violence was connected to the massive rioting and arson that swept the city on Sept. 11 and left nine people dead. That earlier clash was itself a flare-up of long-simmering tensions between the city's Muslim and Christian communities.

Max Pentury, a member of the provincial legislature, said that while neighborhood brawls were common, the police should conduct a thorough investigation into why Monday's got out of hand.

"If this incident was deliberately provoked, then the police should identify and catch the perpetrators," he said. He urged police to intensify their routine raids for weapons, fireworks and other incendiary devices and also called for immediate reparations for those whose homes were damaged, warning that leaving that problem unresolved for long could trigger yet more unrest.

Namsa, the head of the Ambon social services agency, said households affected by the violence would get emergency supplies of food while officials surveyed the homes to determine the degree of damage and the cost of repairing them.

He added that his agency was still building new homes for some 600 families out of the 2,000 rendered homeless following the riot in September.