Thousands desperate to be evacuated

 The situation in the Moluccas is looking critical as the weekend approaches. Missionaries in Ambon reported yesterday (Thursday) that hundreds of Muslim Jihad fighters were gathering in the city centre. They appeared to be preparing for a massive attack against the Christian neighbourhoods. Reports said the guerrillas were concentrating in Pohon Puleh, the bottleneck between Batumeja and the western quarters of the town of Ambon, and nearby Diponegoro. Over the past few days shooting and bombing has been heard in the western neighbourhoods of Batugajah and Diponegoro, in Mardika along the northern coast, Tanah Lapang Kecil and Benteng in the south). Auxiliary bishop of the diocese, Monsignor Jos Tethool said: "The Muslims are doing everything possible to provoke the Christian youngsters into action, giving themselves reason for reaction." In Mardika, a Protestant minister had to persuade the young Christians just to go home and leave the matter to the military. In Benteng government soldiers military persuaded Christians not to retaliate. As the chaotic situation unfolded this week, the governor of the Moluccas, Saleh Latuconsina, admitted that a cargo ship containing urgently needed food and other essentials had been blockaded in Yos Sudarso Harbour in Ambon since 17 June. No other ship has been allowed to dock in the harbour since that date. The Crisis Centre Keuskupan of the Catholic diocese of Ambon reported that 2,000 refugees managed to leave the island on Wednesday on a passenger boat. They said another ship with a capacity for 300 was expected in the next few days. However tens of thousands of people are waiting anxiously to be evacuated. Last Sunday (9 July) the Auxiliary Bishop of Ambon Mgr Jos Tethool appealed to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan for help in evacuating all Christians. He pointed out that what had begun as 'clashes' between the Muslim and Christian communities on 19 January 1999 had intensified dramatically with the recent arrival of thousands of trained Jihad fighter who were wiping out whole villages. The bishop said that the Indonesian army was unable to protect the Christian community against such a well-equipped force and repeated his desperate appeal on behalf of his diocese: "Please send ships to Ambon to help us escape to the nearby islands: Kei, Tanimbar, Kisar, Tepa, Flores, North Celebes. "We want to avoid being slaughtered by those who are attempting to rid the island of Christians and are destroying everything we have built over decades of civilisation in the Moluccas, such as the Pattimura University, which was burnt down, as well as hundreds of Churches, schools, police stations and other public buildings."

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