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Weapons Seized Spice Islands

January 2, 2000

AMBON, Indonesia (AP) _ Security forces carried out a massive search for illegal weapons in the capital of Indonesia’s Spice Islands, where at least 1,200 people have died in a year of fighting between Muslims and Christians.

``We don’t care if they are Christians or Muslims, they have to hand over all weapons,″ said Lt. Col. Arif Mardiyanto, Ambon’s military chief.

He said hundreds of weapons had been seized in house-to-house searches conducted by soldiers and police. The weapons included arrows, machetes, daggers and homemade guns, Mardiyanto said.

Last week’s toll of 350 killed in Maluku and neighboring North Maluku provinces was the worst of any religious conflict in Indonesia’s 50-year history as an independent nation.

Some 12,000 people sought refuge in army and police barracks in a desperate effort to escape the fighting in the region, known as the Spice Islands during Dutch rule.

Last week’s violence abated only after the army dispatched some 2,000 soldiers to assist police and marines.

On Sunday, occasional gunshots could be heard in some of the outlying suburbs of Ambon, 1,500 miles east of Jakarta.

Several thousand Muslims from Halmahera island in North Maluku province _ where 250 civilians died in last week’s violence _ fled Sunday to the nearby island of Ternate, said police Brig. Gen. Dewa Astika.

Meanwhile, police in another Indonesian province, Aceh, said violence has claimed more than 300 lives there since May, a local newspaper reported Sunday.

Ninety-two people, including 51 members of the security forces, disappeared during that period and are feared dead, police Brig. Gen. Bachrumsyah Kasman told the newspaper Serambi Indonesia.

Human rights activists claim that about 5,000 people have died or disappeared in a decade of fighting between government forces and the Free Aceh Movement.

After East Timor seceded from Indonesia in September, the Acehnese independence movement gained support. A rally in November brought nearly a quarter of the province’s 4.1 million residents into the streets to demand a referendum like the one that preceded East Timor’s independence.

Bachrumsyah said that 206 civilians had died, and 78 more had been wounded since May in the province, located about 1,100 miles northwest of Jakarta. Ninety-four members of the security forces were killed and 93 others wounded, he said.

The Acehnese claim their centuries-old kingdom was illegally incorporated into Indonesia in 1949.

The Free Aceh Movement was formed in 1976 and has been fighting Indonesian rule in the oil- and gas-rich province ever since.

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