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Indonesian Troops Restore Calm to Ambon - 2001-12-12


Indonesian troops have restored calm to the city of Ambon capital of the eastern Maluku province, where religious fighting has sporadically occurred for the past two years. At least seven people died Tuesday in riots that erupted after a deadly explosion rocked a passenger ferry.

Witnesses say the streets of Ambon are largely deserted Wednesday as Indonesian troops patrol the city.

Tuesday, Christian mobs burned down the local legislature building and threw stones at other government buildings.

The riots broke out after a mysterious explosion ripped through a passenger ferry, carrying Christians through a predominantly Muslim area.

The Christians accuse Muslim groups of planting a bomb. Police however say the incident is under investigation and it is possible the explosion was could have been caused by an electrical problem.

Located some 1,600 kilometers east of the Indonesian capital, Maluku province has been ravaged by fighting between Muslims and Christians for almost three years. Human rights groups estimate that at least 3,000 people have died in the violence.

The capital Ambon is effectively a city divided, with few venturing across the so-called "green line" between Muslim and Christian neighborhoods.

Sectarian violence has also spread into nearby Central Sulawesi province. Some 2,000 police and military reinforcements were deployed to the town of Poso, where clashes broke out earlier this month.

Local media say the military is expected to enact a plan to confiscate weapons and force outsiders to leave the province.

Christian groups say the recent outbreak of violence in Central Sulawesi was caused by the deployment of thousands of fighters from the Islamic militant group Laskar Jihad or "the Holy War Force."

In a press release, Laskar Jihad said it was in Central Sulawesi to "defend" the Muslim way of life in the face of threats by Christians.

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