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Hoodlums from Jakarta incited Ambon riots

Reuters - January 31, 1999

Jakarta – Hundreds of hoodlums from Indonesia's capital Jakarta arrived on the eastern island of Ambon days before it was hit by bloody riots that killed at least 65 people, a newspaper reported Monday.

The Media Indonesia daily quoted a report by Muslim groups in Ambon, capital of Indonesia's spice islands, as saying that last month at least 862 hoodlums arrived in Ambon in two ships and had helped mastermind the unrest.

The chairman of the Al-Fatah group, Abdullah Solissa, was quoted as saying the hoodlums had arrived ready to instigate riots. The Muslim-Christian violence started on January 19, the first day of the Muslim Eid al-Fitr celebration, and continued for several days.

Media Indonesia said 47 people had been arrested by local police in connection with the riots.

Indonesia has been hit by waves of religious, ethnic and political violence over the past year during the country's worst economic crisis in decades. The Ambon violence was the worst since savage riots hit Jakarta last May, killing almost 1,200 people. Human rights groups and opposition leaders have regularly blamed provocateurs for inciting unrest in the troubled country.

Last week, opposition leaders urged the army to expose the masterminds behind recent violence. Abdurrahman Wahid, head of Indonesia's largest Muslim group, said the provocateurs could be members of the military or followers of former President Suharto, who was forced from power in May.