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Foreigners attacked on Indonesia's Lombok island

Reuters - October 14, 2001 (abridged)

Dean Yates, Jakarta – Two German tourists have been kicked and punched after being mistaken for Americans on Indonesia's Lombok island while other foreigners are being harassed there, state media and a tour operator said on Saturday.

The incidents mark the first reports of assaults on foreigners in mainly Muslim Indonesia since Washington said it would hunt down Saudi-born militant Osama bin Laden over hijack attacks on the United States last month that killed 5,500 people.

The official Antara news agency said the Germans were attacked this week when a tour company took them to a traditional sporting event at a remote village on staunchly Muslim Lombok. "The two German tourists were punched and kicked because it was thought that they were Americans," Antara quoted Putu Aria Tusan from the tour company as saying. It was unclear if the Germans were badly injured.

Antara said objects were also thrown recently at a van carrying around five other tourists in a separate incident on Lombok, which lies next to the famous resort island of Bali.

Despite small anti-US protests in several cities and threats made against Americans and Britons, foreigners have been left alone in major centres including Jakarta. The capital was protest-free on Saturday for the first time in days.

Reached by Reuters, Tusan confirmed the attack on the Germans but said it happened two weeks ago. "Nowadays, people in small [Lombok] villages still spook tourists by asking fiercely if they are Americans," he said.

"But in the cities and in tourist places ... where tourism is the main business the situation is relatively peaceful. People there have even promised to protect their tourists. "The government has to be aware [of this] and I urge [the government] to maintain security so nothing like this happens in the future," Tusan said, declining to give further details.

Despite its beauty and tourist appeal, Lombok has occasionally suffered an image problem from bouts of communal and religious unrest. Parts of the island are also very poor.