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Richard Galpin reporting from Jakarta
"The two sides have been battling each other across the streets of Ambon since Sunday"
 real 28k

Oren Murphy, an aid woker in Ambon
"This is certainly a highly-charged situation"
 real 28k

The BBC's Richard Galpin
"The security forces have not been able to restore peace"
 real 28k

Wednesday, 29 December, 1999, 14:15 GMT
Troops act against Ambon violence

Smoke above Ambon city Dozens of buildings have been burned down in Ambon

The military authorities in Indonesia are taking over responsibility for security in the eastern Moluccan Islands after days of violence in the main city Ambon.

More than 60 people have been killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians in less than a week.

The violence, which started on Sunday, was sparked when a Muslim boy was run over by a Christian driver. Security forces have so far been unable to restore peace.

There are now more than 2,000 Indonesian troops on the islands. Previously, responsibility for security has rested with the police.

However, Indonesian President Abdurraham Wahid has ruled out the possibility of imposing martial law on the islands.

He admitted the situation was out of control, but insisted martial law would not be the right answer.

'War zone'

Eyewitnesses say parts of Ambon are looking more and more like a war zone.

Indonesian soldiers on the streets of Ambon

There are reports of decapitated bodies being dragged through the streets of the city.

Armed Muslim and Christian gangs are said to be sniping at each other with home-made guns.

Clashes broke out in Trikora Square, in the centre of the port city, with people using guns, slingshots and home-made bombs.

Indonesian marines tried to separate the warring factions using barbed-wire roadblocks but the gangs bypassed the barriers.

A mosque in the city and the Protestant Silo Church, the largest in the city, were both burned in the attack. Dozens of other buildings have also been torched.

President Wahid has called on Christian and Musilm leaders in the area to stabilise the situation.

A BBC correspondent, Richard Galpin, says there are reports of many people trying to leave Ambon to seek shelter with relatives in other parts of the island.

Security forces blamed

On Tuesday, church leaders in Indonesia called for international peacekeepers to be sent to the Moluccan Islands if security forces could not control the escalating religious violence.

The Indonesian Communion of Churches said what was happening in the islands was tantamount to genocide.

The security forces say they are bringing the situation under control, but they have been blamed for causing many of the injuries by opening fire during the clashes.

Both Muslims and Christians have accused the Indonesian military of backing the other side.

Oren Murphy, an aid worker in Ambon for the Aksara Foundation, said he saw troops shoot into Christian crowds.

"I have seen members of the police, traditionally aligned with the Christian community, encouraging young fighters to go into the centre of town and fight, even offering them bullets," he added.

Earlier this month, Indonesian President Abdurrahman Wahid and Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri visited the Moluccan Islands to appeal for religious tolerance.

More than 700 people have died in religious violence in the region since last January.

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See also:
28 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Church calls for Ambon peacekeepers
27 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Religious violence erupts in Ambon
15 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Ambon refugee crisis fears
14 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
'Three killed' in Moluccan violence
12 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Wahid tells Ambon to stop fighting
05 Dec 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Sectarian clashes erupt in Indonesia
Ambon's troubled history
03 Apr 99 |  Asia-Pacific
New strife in Moluccas
27 Jul 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Ambon violence flares again

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