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Thursday, July 29, 1999 Published at 18:45 GMT 19:45 UK

World: Asia-Pacific

Military cracks down on Ambon rioters

The military has issued a shoot on sight order to troops as violence between Muslims and Christians continues in the riot-torn eastern Indonesian island of Ambon.

Maluku Military Commander Brigadier General Max Tamaella said security forces will act firmly against rioters, including those attempting to set buildings and vehicles alight.

[ image: Ambon has seen unrest several times this year]
Ambon has seen unrest several times this year
"We will strike and shoot on sight ... the shooting on the spot will be to immobilise them," Mr Tamaella was quoted as saying in the Suara Pembaruan evening newspaper.

Sporadic gunfire echoed throughout the streets on Thursday, as some people continued to burn shops and buildings, local reports said.

But the streets remained largely empty, with many shops having been abandoned by their owners.

Army sent in

The military has already began taking tough actions to stop the rioting. About 800 Indonesian marines arrived in Ambon city on Wednesday afternoon and were immediately sent to quell the violence.

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.

Chief of national police General Roesmanhadi said that another battalion of police and troops is already on standby in the capital Jakarta and will leave for Ambon if necessary.

At least 34 people have been killed since Saturday in the latest wave of violence, reports say.

Accusations of bias

Leaders from both halves of the sectarian divide have accused the security forces of siding with the other.

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.

The latest outbreaks of violence was triggered by the torching of several Muslim homes in the town of Poka over the weekend, residents 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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