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Wednesday, July 28, 1999 Published at 20:21 GMT 21:21 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Troops deployed to quell Ambon violence

Hundreds of marines have been deployed in the Indonesian island of Ambon after a fifth day of sectarian violence between Muslims and Christians.

[ image: Police say further reinforcements are ready to be deployed if needed]
Police say further reinforcements are ready to be deployed if needed
In continued fighting on Wednesday, at least seven people were killed, bringing the total to more than 30 reported dead since trouble began last Saturday. Many others have been wounded.

A local hospital official said all those killed on Wednesday, including three people shot by police, were Muslims.

Police said that 32 people had been arrested.

Eyewitnesses said that police fired at a crowd of Muslims as they approached a group of Christians near the city's main Al Fatah mosque.

On patrol

With troops now patrolling the streets the mayor of Ambon, Christ Tanasale, said the situation was gradually returning to normal, but other witnesses, including a police official, said it was still very tense.

Smoke continued to rise from houses and other buildings set on fire by roaming gangs and most offices and shops have been closed.

"They used virtually every weapon available, machetes, spears, bows and arrows - even crude bombs," said one local journalist.

Leaders from both religious communities accused the security forces of siding with the other.

No confidence

[ image: Ambon has seen unrest several times this year]
Ambon has seen unrest several times this year
The Roman Catholic diocese in Ambon issued what it said was a motion of no confidence in President BJ Habibie.

"It appears that security personnel have taken sides with Muslim groups who have planned the violence," it said in a statement.

A Red Cross worker in Ambon was quoted as echoing the diocesan concerns. "Children saw troops marching in front of angry Muslim mobs burning Christian buildings," she said.

More than 300 people died in similar inter-religious clashes in Ambon earlier this year.

Rageh Omaar: "Dozens of people have been left with horrific injurys"
The latest outbreaks of violence were been triggered by the torching of several Muslim homes in the town of Poka over the weekend, residents have said.

Thousands of people from both communities sought refuge at churches, mosques and schools as well as in a navy compound in Ambon.

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