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Mobs burn police post, ransack shop

Agence France Presse - January 3, 1999

Jakarta – Rumours of deaths in police custody and anti-Chinese tensions sparked new unrest in Indonesia, reports said Sunday. One mob set ablaze a police post and a store in Java while another shop was ransacked by angry Moslems on the island of Sulawesi.

Rumours that a thief had died in police custody in Surabaya, East Java, led to the burning Saturday of the store where the thief was caught and the police post where he was taken, the Media Indonesia daily said.

The mob torched at least five cars and five motorcycles but security forces stopped them from inflicting serious damage on nearby real estate, the daily said. Several attackers were arrested, it added but no figures were given.

Angry Moslems attacked an ethnic Chinese-owned shop in South Buntulia, in the Gorontalo district of North Sulawesi, after a customer overheard the owner labelling a Moslem prayer mat as a mere rug, the Jakarta Post daily said. The mob hauled the contents of the shop onto the street and set it on fire.

Indonesia has been hit by almost daily unrest and demonstrations in recent months as the economic crisis has exacerbated social tensions. The Surabaya mob had been allegedly angered by a report that thieves arrested while trying to rob the store had died while being questioned.

Surabaya police chief Colonel Alfian Anwari confirmed that one of the thieves had died at the police station but said the victim had been badly beaten by a mob when he was handed over to police. "When they handed him over his condition was already critical, maybe he had been manhandled before, when he was caught for the theft," Anwari said.

Eighty-four people have been arrested following violence, including looting, that marred New Year Eve celebrations in three West Java province towns, the Sinar Pagi daily said.

West Java police spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Istanto said 30 people were arrested in Bandung, 29 in Garut and another 25 in Sukabumi after unrest around midnight last Thursday.

Hundreds of youths in Sukabumi, some 80 kilometers (50 miles) south of here, gathered at the central square and destroyed ornamental flower beds and shops. Police and troops stopped the mob from rampaging through a nearby night market.

In Bandung, capital of West Java province, riot police were called in to stop vandals who smashed the windows of five banks and hurled rocks through shop windows and at passing motorists.

Reports said the looting of a local supermarket, six shops and automatic bank teller machines marred New Year festivities in Garut.