Christians flee war in Ambon

 Thousands of Christians are escaping into the hills to escape the war on the Island of Ambon in Indonesia. Many people are sheltering in the Protestant and Catholic church compounds in Batumeja, in the north of the town. The auxiliary Bishop of Ambon, Yos Tethool, said their situation was extremely precarious. There are fears of renewed attacks from the Islamic Jihad fighters and food and medicines are running out. A diocesan spokesman said the entire island is in a state of emergency. Some Christian areas and refugee camps have been completely cut off from food and fuel supplies. The price of rice is escalating and all banks are closed indefinitely. "Many people yearn to be evacuated from the town and the island," said Bishop Tethool. He said there were fears that the situation could escalate as occurred last Autumn in East Timor, or even worse. He warned of growing tension in Tobelo, Halmahera in the North Moluccas, where the Jihad forces are likely to launch an attack in the next few days. At his weekly audience Pope John Paul II appealed for an end to the violence on the Moluccan islands, which has left 168 people dead after nearly two weeks of fighting. The Pontiff described the Muslim attacks on Christians as "savage". He said: "Repeated and bloody attacks by Muslim extremists against Christian villagers have caused innumerable casualties and destruction. I renew my heartfelt appeal for this savage violence to be brought to an end." He said he wanted those behind the attacks to understand that they cannot kill in the name of religion or manipulate religious beliefs to their own ends. Muslim-Christian violence first erupted in the Moluccas in early 1999 and since then thousands have died in the religious fighting.

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