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DATE=12/23/1999 TYPE=CORRESPONDENT REPORT TITLE=INDONESIA - VIOLENCE (L-ONLY) NUMBER=2-257420 BYLINE=RON CORBEN DATELINE=BANGKOK CONTENT= VOICED AT: INTRO: Indonesia has been hit by fresh violence between Muslims and Christians, with the death toll from the latest clashes as high as 43. Ron Corben reports from our Southeast Asia Bureau in Bangkok, the bloodshed occurred in Maluku province, a hotbed of religious clashes over the past year. TEXT: The outbreak of violence occurred Wednesday and comes despite recent calls by President Abdurrahman Wahid for greater tolerance in the eastern Indonesian province of Maluku. Military reports have put the death toll from the latest clashes between Muslim and Christian youths at just over 20. But Indonesia's Kompas Daily newspaper says 43 were killed and 39 injured in the clashes on Buru Island, after the violence was sparked by a brawl between youths near an industrial estate in North Buru sub-district. Several churches were reported attacked and set on fire with more than 170 homes and other buildings said to have been torched amid the bloodshed. Hundreds of villagers, in fear of their lives, fled to the local police headquarters for protection. Buru is some 200 kilometers west of the provincial capital Ambon, itself 24-hundred kilometers east of Jakarta. Buru was once a site of a penal colony set up in the 1960s to house thousands of prisoners accused of being communists by the government of former President Suharto. An Army colonel, Iwa Budiman, contacted by news agencies, said the fighting broke out in several villages late Wednesday after an argument between workers at a local plywood factory. Indonesia's Antara news agency, quoting local residents, said the situation remained tense even as dozens of military and police reinforcements were heading to the island. Colonel Iwa said the situation has been brought under control after the overnight clashes and attacks on buildings. Violence between Christians and Muslims has led to more than 13-hundred deaths over the past year. Officials estimate more than 700 people have been killed in the inter-religious violence in Maluku alone. The disturbance came despite a recent visit to the province by President Wahid, during which he called for reconciliation and religious tolerance. President Wahid has plans to travel on December 31st to Irian Jaya, where groups have been calling for independence from Jakarta. But the conflicts in Maluku - also known as the Molaccas - appear to have been driven by religious antagonism. President Wahid had said previous efforts to solve the problems in Maluku had been mishandled. But he acknowledged it is difficult to determine who should now be involved in a dialogue. Vice President Megawati Sukarnoputri has responsibility for finding a solution in the troubled province, but has so far said little to indicate a way forward to solve the tensions. About 90 percent of Indonesia's 210 million people are Muslims, making it the world's most populous Islamic nation. But in Maluku the Christian and Muslim communities are about equal in size. For generations they have lived in relative harmony and reports say there are few clear reasons to explain the recent violence. NEB/RC/FC/PLM 23-Dec-1999 04:48 AM EDT (23-Dec-1999 0948 UTC) NNNN Source: Voice of America .

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