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Monday, March 1, 1999 Published at 11:27 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

New riots rock Ambon

Ambon City has become a virtual ghost town

At least nine people have been killed in fresh clashes between Christians and Muslims on the Indonesian island of Ambon.

Simon Jones: "There is nothing left for them anymore"
Three of the dead were shot by police. Witnesses said officers opened fire without warning.

[ image: Thousands are fleeing Ambon]
Thousands are fleeing Ambon
The latest violence appears to have erupted when a group of Christians attacked a Muslim neighbourhood just outside Ambon City early on Monday.

Rioters burned several houses and a mosque.

Six bodies, wrapped in white, were laid out in Ambon's central mosque. Some of them were said to be members of a family killed by Christian militants on Sunday.

Worst violence in 15 years

Ambon, 2,300km (1,440 miles) east of Jakarta, has been savaged by inter-religious fighting. About 150 people have been killed this year.

Jonathon Head reports on the continuing violence between Muslim and Christian communities
It is the worst sectarian violence to hit Indonesia in more than 15 years.

BBC Jakarta Correspondent Jonathan Head says the fighting seems to be running out of control, with attacks by both communities taking place almost every day.

The latest clashes broke out in a neighbourhood where Christian and Muslim leaders had only just held a public reconciliation meeting.

Shoot on sight

The military leadership in Jakarta is considering sending more troops to Ambon.

[ image:  ]
However, the security forces are viewed by both sides as partisan and now risk becoming a third party in the conflict.

Soldiers have been told to shoot on sight.

Military commander General Wiranto only recently set up a 5,000-strong anti-riot force for dealing with situations like that in Ambon.

Hundreds flee

The violence has turned Ambon City, capital of the eastern province of Maluku, into a virtual ghost town with few people venturing out.

On Sunday, the port was jammed as about 1,300 people rushed to flee the island after the explosion of a home-made bomb at the weekend.

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