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Hundreds protest shootings in Ambon

Agence France Presse - February 25, 1999 (abridged)

Ambon – About 700 people Friday held protests against security shootings on civilians here as Moslem-Christian violence that has so far claimed at least 18 lives entered its fourth day.

"We do not want to see reckless shooting of people again," said a woman who identified herself as Nelly, one of the group gathered outside the Maluku police headquarters in the riot-torn eastern Indonesian city.

The protesters had earlier Friday demonstrated at the nearby provincial military headquarters, then marched in an orderly fashion to the police building.

"Do not shoot the people any more," the crowd shouted, while others accused the police and army of shooting "innocent people" while leaving those guilty of violence untouched.

The protesters where unarmed and mostly Christians. Although noisy, they were not violent and did not cause any damage during their demonstration. Maluku police chief Colonel Karyono was scheduled to address the crowd, police officers at the headquarters said.

Christians have accused soldiers and police of being partial in the conflict, with most of the shooting victims of the past days being Christians.

"They [the security forces] appear to be one-sided, shooting our Christian brothers while letting Moslems, who had clearly started the bombings, go unpunished," said high school teacher Stanley Lawalata amid the noisy yells of the protestors at the police headquarters.

The demonstration came amid persistent violence around the Batu Merah area early on Friday. At least six shots were heard early on Friday from the Ahuru area, residents said, while smoke was also rising from the Moslem area in Batu Merah Dalam.

"I cannot approach the fire yet, but people here have told me that several fuel bombs had been thrown to houses in the Moslem quarters while it was still dark this morning," a local journalist trying to approach the area said.

Crowds armed with cutlasses, spears and arrows were preventing outsiders, including the police and soldiers, from entering the quarters.

Another resident said he had received reports from relatives that violent incidents were erupting in several areas around the Bay of Ambon, including on the way to the airport.

Shops, businesses and schools remained shut and there was no public transport on the streets of the city.

The renewed violence broke out in the Batu Merah Dalam area on Tuesday with fuel bombs thrown on several Christian houses from an adjacent hill.

At least 18 people have been killed since and over 100 houses torched, police have said, adding that at least four people had been killed on Thursday alone.

Residents said the death toll that day was higher because the violence was spread out over several areas.