Mon, 17 Apr 2000

'Laskar Jihad' head vows to send volunteers to Maluku

BOGOR (JP): The commander of Laskar Jihad (Jihad Force), Jaffar Umar Thalib, insisted on Sunday that the group would continue its plan to deploy 10,000 volunteers to Maluku at the end of this month.

"We will keep our schedule to send the first batch of 3,000 volunteers by the end of this month. The next two volunteer groups will follow, based on a further arrangement," Jaffar, who was accompanied by chairman Ayip Syarifuddin and secretary- general Ma'ruf Bahrun, told a news conference.

But Jaffar said he had to fly to the Middle East to meet with his counterparts to talk about the planned deployment of volunteers in Maluku.

"Prior to departing for Maluku, I will go for a 10-day visit to Middle Eastern countries, such as Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Jordan, to discuss the jihad plan with our counterparts," he said.

At the moment, he said, he was still waiting for the completion of his visa application.

Earlier this week, Minister of Religious Affairs Tolchah Hasan asked the police to disband the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah Forum, which he said had questionable intentions as Maluku had entered a reconciliation and rehabilitation stage.

The minister also said he had received complaints from several representatives of Middle Eastern countries who said they had nothing to do with the forum's activities "which could tarnish the image of the Middle East as the group were wearing Arabian- style clothing".

The Jihad Force previously announced the volunteers would leave for Maluku on April 23 to aid Muslims affected by the prolonged communal clashes in the province.

"Members of Laskar Jihad who are married will stay in Maluku for four months, while those who are not will probably stay there permanently," Jaffar explained.

Jaffar met the media hours before the group's departure from their military-style training ground in the Munjul village of Kayumanis in Tanah Sareal district. According to the group's schedule, members of Laskar Jihad were to leave the area beginning at 8 p.m. on Sunday.

"Some members will go home to their respective hometowns in Central Java, while those from outside Java will stay at our main base in Yogyakarta before leaving for Maluku," he said.

After handing over a total of 487 various weapons to police on Friday, about 3,000 Jihad Force members agreed to vacate the seven-hectare compound on about 40 buses for the group's main headquarters in Kaliurang, 15 kilometers north of Yogyakarta in Central Java.

Six commanders of the group met with Bogor Regional Police chief Col. Edi Darnadi on Saturday to coordinate the pullout.

"Laskar Jihad will leave under a police escort that will take them to the border of Bogor," Edi said, adding that the entourage would head to Yogyakarta via Bandung, the capital of West Java.

Jaffar reiterated that the forum's mission is to forge a spiritual form of jihad through preaching.

"But this time media reports are merely focusing on the physical and weapon training, while the main spiritual goal of the jihad has not been covered," he said.

The group voiced its dissatisfaction with President Abdurrahman Wahid's handling of the Maluku conflict, accusing him of favoring the Christian minority.

Jihad Force members have been taking part in training since April 6.

As many as 3,150 Muslim youths took part in the training, which was organized on the plot of land, belonging to the Al Irsad Foundation chaired by Jaffar Hilal Thalib.

Locals, however, have expressed fear over the group's activities and complained that the Jihad Force harmed the environment by using the nearby Cibadak River and cutting down trees without permission.

In a bid to ease tension and mend relations with local residents, the group staged activities, such as cleaning the local roads and mosques, on Saturday and Sunday. In cooperation with young doctors from Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta and Airlangga University in Surabaya, they also provided free health services to the locals. (21/edt)