MSF distributes medical supplies to hospitals as violence continues in troubled Indonesian city of Ambon

Last week MSF started to distribute medical supplies to four hospitals in Ambon city, in the Maluku province of eastern Indonesia. Over the last six days, the city has been shaken by violent fighting, which has caused an estimated 36 deaths and left scores wounded. The hostilities continued last night, resulting in at least one death and three injured.

The medical organisation immediately flew the emergency supplies from Jakarta to Ambon and spent two days distributing drugs and dressing materials to the Al Fatah, Al Muqaddam, Bhakti Rahayu and GPM hospitals, all of which are treating patients wounded during the fighting. †

The violence in Ambon followed a demonstration march on Sunday April 26 by a Maluku separatist movement, which heightened previously existing tensions between Christians and Muslims in the city and sparked fierce clashes and spates of looting and destruction.

In the early hours of Monday April 27, MSF's office was burnt down, resulting in the loss of medical stocks, computer equipment and data.

"We lost almost everything as a result of the fire," explains Sabine Rens, MSF Head of Mission in Indonesia. "However, the important thing is that our Indonesian and international staff are safe and are able to continue working. They spent Monday and Tuesday assessing the needs of the Ambon hospitals and prepared the donation kits to meet the hospitals' needs.

"(On April 29), our national staff delivered the supplies directly to the doctors in four hospitals, two of which are in a Muslim quarter and two of which are in a Christian neighbourhood."

Between 1999 and 2002, Ambon was the site of a fierce conflict between Christians and Muslims, which claimed an estimated 5000 lives, destroyed much of the island's infrastructure and forced many people to flee their homes and live in camps for displaced people ("IDPs"). Since a peace agreement was signed in 2002, the island has been calm and has made significant progress in rebuilding its physical and societal infrastructure, with many IDPs being able to return to their previous communities or to newly built homes. During the recent violence, the city has again been divided along the lines of the old conflict, into strictly Muslim and Christian areas.

"MSF is of course working in both the Christian and Muslim quarters," explains Rens. "Many of the patients we have seen in the hospitals have gun shot wounds, some of which were caused by snipers. Other patients have burns and knife wounds, or have been injured by stones being thrown at them. The situation was calmer yesterday during the day, although our team did witness a bomb explosion close to the site of our office."

Prior to last week's violence, MSF was running a variety of programmes in Ambon, including a project to improve water and sanitation facilities for IDPs, a mental health programme and a community-based project to improve the success of a tuberculosis treatment programme. These projects have been suspended since Sunday due to the hostilities.

"One of our main concerns is for the people who were forced to flee their homes previously, during the 1999- 2002 crisis," says Barbara Laumont, a psychologist with MSF who left Ambon on Monday. " There are people still living in the camps for displaced people and many others who lived as IDPs for several years and have only recently returned to their place of origin. There is a risk that this new spate of violence will awaken previous traumatic memories and increase psychological disturbances, including post-traumatic stress disorder."

MSF is now the only NGO that still has international staff working in Ambon.


The opinions expressed here are the views of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of News Medical.
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