Sat, 13 May 2000

Authorities arranges plans for departure of jihad force

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Maluku authorities on Friday were already making plans to find the most expeditious way of transporting over 1,200 members of Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah out of the province.

The Jihad Force has been given a one-month deadline to leave. But already on Friday authorities were thinking of ways of expediting their departure.

"We will send them back on naval ships," Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela said on Friday.

He stated that despite the ban on their being here, local authorities were giving group members already in Maluku the benefit of the doubt by letting them proceed with humanitarian activities.

In a plenary meeting with local councilors it was also decided that Maluku Governor Saleh Latuconsina, Tamaela and provincial council speaker, Etty Sahuburua, would go to Jakarta and directly report to President Abdurrahman Wahid on the latest developments sometime next week.

"We cannot just decide to close the port without further coordination and guidance from Jakarta," Latuconsina said regarding the possibility of shutting down the port to prevent further Jihad Force members from arriving.

Following the heightening of religious tensions at the end of last year and early this year, the Jihad Force has pledged to send its members to Maluku to protect Muslims in the province. Most have journeyed from the Surabaya port of Tanjung Perak.

Tamaela on Friday also clarified the confusing figures on the total number of Jihad Force members who have succeeded in arriving in the province.

"We have a list of 500 men. But the captain of the Rinjani ship, Abdul Hamid of Tidore in Central Halmahera who carried the group here, said there was a total of 1,200 members of Laskar Jihad on board. They all obtained tickets which were bought and ordered by the group," Tamaela said.

Field data gathered by local journalists indicate that as many as 1,628 were in Maluku. They were centered at Al Fatah mosque, but most have moved to the Galunggung area in Batu Merah subdistrict.(48/49/edt)