Sat, 08 Apr 2000

Akbar advises 'jihad' volunteers

JAKARTA (JP): House Speaker Akbar Tandjung called on a Muslim organization to cancel its plan to send trained warriors to launch a jihad (holy war) in strife-torn Maluku.

"Sending men to Maluku will create a new problem. Let the government, local religious and informal leaders handle the problem," Akbar told reporters on Friday.

Those wanting to help Maluku people should contribute in the form of financial donations, he said.

The group, Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah Forum, rallied outside the Presidential Palace on Thursday, many carrying swords and machetes, announcing their jihad plan unless the government quickly resolved the Maluku conflict.

The protesters said they were also offended by Abdurrahman's remarks belittling the suffering of Muslims in Maluku.

On Friday, some 100 members of the group led by its "commander" Jaffar Umar Thalib visited People's Consultative Assembly Chairman Amien Rais to discuss their plan.

The forum plans to send 3,000 men to Maluku at the end of April. "We will fight anyone trying to stop us," Jaffar said.

Chairman Ayip Syafruddin said the group hoped to send 10,000 people to Maluku eventually.

The volunteers are being trained at a camp in Kayumanis, Bogor, by men with experience in the Afghanistan, Bosnia and Moro (Philippines) wars, Ayip said.

The Jakarta Post found activities on Friday in a seven-hectare field in a valley reachable only after a three-kilometer walk. Some 300 tents had been set up in the camp.

Some volunteers were seen jogging while others learned martial arts.

Hendro Tri Setiyono, a member of the special guard, said 3,150 people were taking part in the first phase of program which began on April 6 and will end on April 16. They leave for Ambon on April 23, he said.

"Jihad does not mean war. The purpose of going to Maluku is to provide religious counseling and assistance to victims," he said, underlining the fact that many of the participants were medical students.

Police said they would not allow the jihad group members to enter Maluku.

National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Dadang Garnida declined to say what actions police would take if the Muslim warriors forced their way into Maluku.

Police are also investigating the training camp in Bogor, Dadang was quoted by Satunet as saying.

Dadang said the demonstrators had violated the law when they carried machetes and swords at Thursday's rally outside the presidential palace. Police had already asked the group leaders not to carry the weapons, he said. (jun/21)