Tue, 09 May 2000

Laskar Jihad members enter riot-torn Maluku

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Up to 200 members of the Laskar Jihad (Jihad Force) Muslim group have entered riot-torn Ambon from Namlea Port on neighboring Buru island, police said.

Maluku Police spokesman Maj. Jakriel Phillip said on Monday that police and intelligence officers have been deployed to monitor the group's activities.

He said the group was closely watched by security personnel aboard two patrol ships, but was not prevented from landing at the Slamet Riyadi port. They went straight to the Al Fatah mosque upon arrival.

According to Jakriel, the first group of 87 jihad members from Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah reached Maluku on Friday night on board KM Lambelu ship and stayed on Buru island before traveling to Ambon on Danau Rana ferry the following day.

"Based on our latest information, the number of Laskar Jihad members has reached between 112 and 200 people," Jakriel said.

Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah chief Jafar Umar Thalib said earlier that a total of 3,000 members would leave for Ambon through Tanjung Perak Port in Surabaya, the capital of East Java, beginning on Sunday.

Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela warned the Muslim volunteers against instigating further unrest in Ambon.

"We cannot stop them from coming (here). But if they act badly in Ambon, we will take firm measures. I've urged them to refrain from provoking trouble," Tamaela said.

He said security forces could not prevent the group's arrival as they were unarmed and did not commit any crime.

"They say they want to help rehabilitate Ambon and that they are here to do social work as well as propagate Islam. Let's see if the group keeps its word," he said.

Sectarian conflict has rocked Maluku islands for 15 months since breaking out in Ambon in January last year. A semblance of peace has been seen in the last few months, although minor clashes still occur.

In the latest incident on Monday, two residents from Laha village were injured as a group of people from the neighboring village of Tawiri fired homemade guns at them.

The villages are located near Pattimura Airport, about 40 kilometers east of here. (49/edt)