Jakarta – Bloody rioting among rival mobs of Christians and Muslims flared for a third straight day Thursday on a remote island in eastern Indonesia. At least 22 people were killed, police said.
They feared the death toll could rise as religious strife intensifies on Ambon Island, 2,300 kilometers northeast of the capital, Jakarta.
Dozens have been injured and many residents have fled their homes for the safety of the nearby Halong naval base. Hundreds of others are sheltered in police stations. "We all are frightened now. We are getting out with our children. The men will stay behind to guard our houses," said one woman who identified herself as Rosdiana.
The rioting started Tuesday night after Muslims from the village of Batumerah attacked a man from the neighboring Christian-dominated village of Mardika. They accused him of being drunk and insulting their Islamic beliefs. The trouble later spread to the city of Ambon and other nearby villages.
Sporadic fighting continued Wednesday after 700 riot police and troops were deployed. The island's airport was shut Thursday morning except for military flights bringing reinforcements. Armed gangs blocked surrounding roads. On Thursday, mobs armed with machetes, spears and crowbars were enraged by reports that mosques and churches had been set on fire.
Local police chief Col. Karyono S.M. said six houses of worship had been burned and dozens of vehicles damaged. "The violence is as bad as it was on the first day," one police officer said on condition of anonymity. The official Antara news agency said at least 100 people had been badly injured and more than 30 houses burned in Ambon.