Troops pour in to quell Spice Island Muslims call holy war in Spice Island

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The Independent Online
THOUSANDS OF Indonesian troops continued to land in the Spice Islands yesterday as Islamic leaders threatened a holy war against Christians engaged in a brutal conflict with Muslim neighbours on the island of Ambon.

"Right now we call for a jihad [holy war], since more and more Muslims are being shot down," said Eggy Sudjana, chairman of the Indonesian Trade Union of Muslims Brotherhood in Jakarta. Fadli Zon, of the Islamic Star Crescent party, urged Muslims to travel to Ambon, where 200 people have been murdered in six weeks of religious conflict. "The police and military are on [the Christians'] side," Mr Fadli said. "It's only when you're ready for war that there is peace."

Two thousand students demonstrated outside the Defence and Security Ministry in Jakarta, chanting "Jihad" and "God is great" and accusing military commanders of failing to defend Muslims.

"Stop killing and destroying Muslims in Ambon," read their banners, as well as "Send us now to Ambon" and "We are ready to die as martyrs". What began as an obscure conflict in a faraway corner of the archipelago, 1,400 miles from the capital, has turned into a huge embarrassment for the Indonesian President, BJ Habibie, as police and soldiers have proved themselves incapable of bringing an end to the killing.

In Ambon, many troops, including marines and members of the elite Kostrad strategic command, disembarked in the main harbour. Some 1,400 have arrived since Tuesday, but there are fights, fires and explosions every day.

The funeral of Marlen Sitanola, a Christian university lecturer, murdered and mutilated by unknown assailants on Tuesday, took place without any violence yesterday, but the centre of the town of Ambon was closed off in the afternoon after a Christian was stabbed near the church where he was sheltering.

Women and children fled from the streets to their homes, roads were closed and police and soldiers sealed off the Muslim neighbourhood from where the attackers had allegedly come. For an hour, the streets, - many of them lined with burnt-out houses, schools, cinemas and hotels - were deserted. The silence was punctuated by occasional pops and booms, apparently from home-made guns and bombs.

The commander of the Indonesian armed forces, General Wiranto, reiterated that his policy would be to shoot rioters on sight, though he denied this means shooting to kill. "I have ordered them to take harsh action against anyone, regardless of ethnic and religious background. I ordered the troops to shoot at their feet so as to paralyse them, but not to kill."

Members of both religious communities insisted the armed forces were prejudiced against them.

On Monday, at least three Muslims died, allegedly after being shot by Christian policemen.

Christians at the Resurrection Community Centre cheered when television news carried reports of General Wiranto's other announcement - the sacking of the island's police chief, Colonel Karyono Sumodinoto.

The Antara news agency reported that General Wiranto may be summoned by the Indonesian parliament and taken to task for the military's failure to restore order in Ambon. "This incident is no longer a trivial matter," an MP, Aisyah Aminy, told the agency. "This slaying of residents has become a protracted problem, giving the impression that the security apparatus is incapable of handling the matter."