9 Christians Shot Dead in Indonesia

Menacing Sign as Christmas Approaches

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JAKARTA, Indonesia, DEC. 19, 2001 (Zenit.org).- Gunmen wielding automatic rifles shot dead nine Christians traveling in a boat off Indonesia´s violence-torn Ambon city today, in an ominous sign for the Christmas season, Reuters reported.



Local police spokesman Marthens Alfons said that two others were wounded in the early morning attack, when unidentified gunmen pulled their speedboat close to the victims´ craft on waters near the eastern coastal city, in the Moluccas Islands.

"A speedboat carrying 11 passengers was shot at by a group of unidentified men. Nine are dead," Alfons said by telephone from Ambon, which is located 2,300 kilometers (1,440 miles) east of Jakarta. Alfons said marines tried to catch the gunmen but they escaped.

Ambon and other parts of the Moluccas have been plagued since early 1999 by clashes between Muslims and Christians, which have left thousands dead and forced many more to flee the region.

"The victims were Christians, they were mostly merchants traveling to buy goods, such as meat, fish and vegetables, at a morning market in Ambon, to be sold again in their areas," Alfons said.

Indonesia, the world´s largest Muslim country, has tightened security to prevent a repeat of the sectarian violence that erupted last Christmas Eve, when a series of bomb blasts near churches killed 19 people across the country.

The fresh violence in Ambon follows new clashes in another Muslim-Christian trouble spot around the town of Poso, in central Sulawesi province, which is also in eastern Indonesia. Both areas had been relatively peaceful until recently.

Peace talks involving the warring sides in Poso began today. Indonesia´s outer regions have been hit by a wave of communal and religious bloodshed since decades of autocratic rule by former President Suharto ended in 1998. In many cases the authorities have appeared powerless to restore peace.