Violence erupted during a torch procession to honor national hero Thomas “Pattimura” Matulessy, leaving at least 51 injured and dozens of vehicles and houses burned in Ambon, Maluku.
The incident evoked bitter memories of the sectarian clashes of 1999–2002, which saw thousands killed in the region and left hundreds of thousands more displaced.
Minor clashes have since haunted the province, culminating on Tuesday, at a time the nation tries to inspire young citizens by commemorating the anti-colonialism acts of Pattimura.
At least 51 people were hospitalized and more than a dozen motorcycles were burned in the violence.
The incident unfolded as a group of people performing the traditional cakalele dance were about to hand “Pattimura Torches” over to another group in Mardika, as part of the procession.
A brawl erupted between performers and onlookers, with the bamboo torches hurled at those on the roadside, causing some to catch fire.
Projectiles were also seen being thrown from the roadside.
“I had my hip hit by a torch and a house was burned,” Rein Leohen said from Bhakti Rahayu Ambon Hospital, where she was being treated, as quoted by Antara.
Rein said that some onlookers had cuts to their arms and legs from sharp weapons.
Hundreds of police, assisted by soldiers and equipped with a water canon and an armored vehicle, held off the crowds.
Pastor John Ruhulessin took to the street to calm the crowd and appealed to them to stop trying to create anarchy by blockading roads, burning tires and throwing objects at security personnel.
Governor Karel Albert Ralahalu and Ambon Mayor Richard Louhenapessy also called for restraint.
“Let’s keep secure conditions. I request Ambon citizens and Maluku in general to restrain themselves and not be provoked by the incident,” Karel said after attending the commemoration of Pattimura Day.
Pattimura (June 8, 1783 – Dec. 16, 1817) is revered by Indonesians as someone who fought Dutch colonialism with heroism.
“Let’s follow the heroic deeds shown by Pattimura, who was keen for sacrifice in defending Maluku and Indonesia from colonialism, by nurturing good behavior and developing Maluku — not falling into acrimony,” Karel said
The incident came in the buildup to the national Koran recital contest, to be hosted in Ambon from June 8 to 19.
Although Indonesia is a predominantly Muslim country, the number of Muslims and non-Muslims is relatively equal in some regions, including Maluku.
Karel urged people to tighten their bonds among one another and make sure the Koran recital contest is a success.
He said he had no idea what caused the violence.
“The police are still investigating the case. I urge the police to take a tough stance against the perpetrators,” he said.
He also said that the cost of hospital treatments and damage repairs would be the administration’s responsibility.
The victims were being treated at Dr. Haulussy Hospital (23 people), Bhakti Rahayu (11), Sumber Hidup Hospital (8), Al Fatah Hospital (7) and Dr. Latumeten Hospital (1).
The police said they have not yet arrested or questioned any people suspected of being involved in
“We have yet to summon witnesses for questioning, let alone arresting suspects or provocateurs,” Maluku Police spokesperson Adj. Sn. Comr Johanis Huwae said on Tuesday.
He said that the most urgent issue was to make sure that the security condition was under control to avert possible escalation.
Mayor Richard said he deplored the incident, which he blamed irresponsible intruders for.
“The citizens were enthused about following the commemoration by performing a choir, playing flutes, trumpets in a traditional music show,” he said.
“But there was someone who wanted the Ambon condition to be insecure.”
1999–2002: Sectarian conflict claims thousands of lives.
Feb. 12, 2002: Rival Maluku groups sign a peace accord that ends the three-year sectarian conflict that claimed more than 6,000 lives and displaced 700,000.
Nov. 25, 2009: The United Nations selects Ambon as its 34th World Peace Site in response to the quelling of the social conflict.
Sept. 11, 2011: Riots broke out in Ambon, leaving seven people dead and 65 others injured.
Dec. 13, 2011: Clash in Nusaniwe, Ambon, sees 16 injured and five houses gutted.
Feb. 11, 2012: A feud among Salampessy clan at Negeri Pelau kills 5 people, injures a dozen and leaves 300 homes burned.
March 8, 2012: A clash between Haria and Porto residents at Saparua Island injures two people and damages two houses.
Source: The Jakarta Post