Six die in Jakarta rioting, with 44 reported killed in Timor crackdown

 

At least six people were killed and several buildings burned and looted in the Indonesian capital yesterday as simmering ethnic and religious tensions exploded.

Troops fired tear-gas and warning shots into the air in fruitless attempts to disperse several rock-throwing and machete-wielding mobs rampaging through various parts of Jakarta, but mainly in the once-vibrant Chinatown district. Witnesses said some soldiers fired live rounds into the air.

By nightfall most of the mobs had dispersed, although hundreds of rioters and troops confronted each other in Chinatown.

Commercial radio quoted police as saying six people were killed and 15 injured in a clash in Chinatown between Javanese Muslims and Catholics from the eastern Indonesian island of Ambon. Mobs raged through various parts of the city, shouting "Kill the Ambonese".

Several were later seen doing "high-five" handshakes with soldiers as they carried the mutilated bodies of three Ambonese people.

The latest violence is the worst since pro-democracy protests earlier this month turned bloody, killing at least 14 people.

Yesterday's violence was unrelated to the political unrest and erupted when several thousand Muslims attacked a Catholic church and an adjacent building they believed housed an Ambonese gambling hall.

The attack was in retaliation for a rumoured Ambonese assault on a mosque. The strife reflects simmering ethnic and religious tensions in this diverse nation of 200 million.

These tensions had been largely suppressed during the iron-fisted 32-year rule of former president Suharto, who quit in May during rioting which killed more than 1,200 people.

In Lisbon, a former governor of East Timor and political adviser to the Indonesian President, Mr B.J. Habibie, said yesterday 44 people had been killed during a military crackdown in the Indonesian-occupied territory.

Mr Mario Carrascalao told the Portuguese news agency Lusa he had confirmed the death toll with sources who had reached the district of Alas on the southern coast of the Pacific island.

Portugal, the former colonial ruler of East Timor, suspended UN-brokered talks with Jakarta on Friday after first reports emerged that civilians had died around Alas, an area where anti-Indonesian guerrillas are active.

Bishop Carlos Belo, a joint winner of the 1996 Nobel Peace Prize, urged Jakarta to withdraw its soldiers from the area.

The deaths would be the worst such incident in East Timor, which Jakarta invaded in 1975, since up to 200 people were killed during demonstrations in Dili in 1991.