Dons mourn torched site

July 14, 2000

A university destroyed by a fire during widespread violence that claimed four lives in the Moluccan Islands is being mourned by Indonesians and international academics who helped it flourish.

The unrest came a week after the Indonesian government declared a state of civil emergency. The local military commander, Colonel Made Yassa, said the deaths occurred during fighting between rival Christian and Muslim gangs in the Ambon Pattimura University area.

Christopher Dagg, director of the Eastern Indonesian Universities Development Project, a 12-year faculty-training and regional development initiative between Canada's Simon Fraser University and four Indonesian universities, spread word to colleagues in Canada that just two buildings remained standing at Pattimura.

Nello Angerilli of Simon Fraser University said three people associated with the project had been killed. One was the son of Jan Nanere, rector of Pattimura, a Christian University.

Many newly funded buildings were destroyed: a four-storey computer building, a towing tank that helped ship builders in the region improve their designs and the university's chemistry department.

Mr Dagg told colleagues in an email that one consolation was that English-language training equipment was safely stowed by a staff member before the building housing it was torched.

The four universities are located in the poorest areas of the country and more than C$28 million (Pounds 12.5 million) has been invested to improve basic and applied sciences.

Pattimura has 8,000 students and many international links, including a long-term connection with Newcastle University's Dove Marine Laboratory at Cullercoats. Its director, Stewart Evans, said: "We have had half-a-dozen of their staff here whom we have trained to masters and PhD level. For many months we have been trying to contact them without success. It is all very depressing. We are concerned for their safety."

Mr Dagg said his main concern is to locate faculty members among the 200,000 people reported to be displaced in the region. An estimated 4,000 people have been killed in communal strife over the past 18 months.

Many suspect the violence has been choreographed by supporters of former president Suharto. "Somebody is paying the bills for what is clearly destabilising the government," Mr Dagg said.

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