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Police accused of unwarranted shooting

Agence France Presse - February 15, 1999 (abridged)

Jakarta – An Indonesian church group has accused police of opening fire on unarmed villagers during the latest outbreak of Moslem-Christian violence to hit the eastern province of Maluku.

The accusation was made as President B.J. Habibie said Monday that the recent religious clashes in the country had their roots in economic problems.

At least 20 people were killed, 37 seriously injured and about 100 houses burned in violence on Haruku island in Maluku on Sunday, a national police spokesman said.

The Communion of Churches in Indonesia said in a statement the shooting in Haruku by the police mobile brigade – part of the armed forces, or ABRI – had been unwarranted.

"On Sunday, 14 February 1999, around 9:30am, a sudden attack by ABRI personnel took place against a group of civilians passing through Waimital hamlet, 30 minutes from Hulaliu village, Haruku island," the release said.

It said the shooting, in which five were killed, had come without warning, and there had been no ban on passage through the area or any roadblock. "The ABRI personnel seem to have intentionally trapped the civilian group and slaughtered them with shots from hidden locations," the church group said.

Four people died on the spot and one later at a hospital in the neighbouring island of Saparua. Another was reported to be in critical condition at the same hospital, it said.

Although the church group did not say where the civilian group came from, it said the slaughter took place after the mainly Christian village of Kariu was attacked by mobs from Pelauw, a mainly Moslem neighbouring village.

"The violence, brutal and provocative actions by these ABRI personnel were practically done openly ... this condition clearly will not help efforts for reconciliation and rehabilitation currently being done by the society," said the statement.

The state Antara News Agency on Sunday quoted the head of Haruku sub-district, Suwardi Koli, as saying 11 people had died at that time – eight from Pelauw and three from Kailolo village, which is also predominantly Moslem. Antara said Sunday that two more people who died in hospital were from Kariu.

The church group said some 20 houses had been torched in Kariu. The trigger for the attacks was the burning of a Christian house Saturday, Koli has said.

Habibie Monday said the continuing economic crisis was the root cause of the recent series of religious and ethnic conflicts.

"We are certain that the roots of all the tension were not conflicts between communities of believers," he said in a speech at the presidential palace for the opening of a press forum.

"The root of the problem lies more in economic problems, social jealousy, and even several incidents of a purely criminal nature which grew into a problem between religious communities," he added.