Indonesian soldiers `killed 24 in church'

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The Independent Online
INDONESIAN TROOPS shot dead 24 Christians sheltering in a church on the island of Ambon, priests and aid workers said. It is said to have happened on Wednesday during the latest Christian-Muslim violence.

A priest said soldiers of the Indonesian Strategic Command, known as Kostrad, fire on the Protestant church in Galala, a suburb of the town of Ambon. "I buried 21 of the victims ... in the backyard of the church," said Andreas Lopulalan. Fourteen other bodies were found in other parts of the town, according to Captain Sutarno, a military spokesman, and 257 civilians were injured, along with 16 members of the security forces. "Most of the victims suffered gunshot wounds. There are indications that some civilians were firing weapons."

The Kostrad troops arrived recently from Java after local forces failed to keep the peace between members of the two religions.

The violence began in January with a fight between a minibus driver and a passenger. Both Christians and Muslims blame one another for starting the violence, and each side says the Indonesian police and army are biased against them.

"Beside the Muslim mobs supported by gunmen ... there were officers with automatic rifles passing through the streets and firing on any Christians they find there," a statement by Christian churches said. Captain Sutarno said he believed the statement was "a one-sided report. I am not sure such an incident has taken place at all".

In other parts of the town police and soldiers fired, apparently with rubber bullets, on a crowd waiting for bodies to be delivered at a hospital.