Thu, 25 May 2000

Laskar Jihad rejects calls to leave Maluku

YOGYAKARTA (JP): The Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah (Jihad Force) has rejected calls from Maluku authorities and residents to leave the riot-torn islands, saying the request was groundless.

"We will not pull Laskar Jihad out of Maluku, unless Muslims in the islands secure a safety guarantee during the rehabilitation period," spokesman for the jihad force Ayip Syarifuddin told The Jakarta Post by phone from the force's headquarters here.

Ayip even added that 50 reinforcement volunteers left for the Maluku capital of Ambon on Tuesday.

Despite the group's claim that they only run humanitarian activities in Ambon, locals have been unnerved by their presence and some strongly accused them of instigating the recent rioting which left at least 41 dead and no less than 100 wounded.

Ayip admitted that some of his group members had been provoked to take part in the sectarian conflict, and that at least three volunteers had been shot and injured.

"We've tried to exercise restraint, but Laskar Jihad members are only human beings who can be emotional, too," Ayip said.

The force's resistance to the pullout call was also expressed by secretary-general of the jihad force Ma'ruf Bahrun, who is now in Ambon.

"On what grounds are we told to go? We're running a humanitarian mission for Muslims here," Ma'ruf said as quoted by local daily Siwalima on its Wednesday edition.

Ma'ruf admitted that his members were involved in the recent conflicts in Ambon, but said "it was only in self-defense."

"You know that days before our arrival here, Ambon was already rocked by riots. So we're just defending ourselves."

He also denied allegations that the Laskar Jihad received funds from certain political elites.

"It's not true. We are independent and we raised our money from our fellow Muslims," Ma'ruf said.

It is reported that the number of Laskar Jihad entering Ambon since late last month has reached around 2,200 people, while the group pledged to send around 3,000 volunteers.

Authorities have discouraged Laskar Jihad's departure to Ambon, but have been unable to prevent them because they were unarmed when they entered Maluku. Thousands of recruits underwent a military-style training in a camp in Bogor, West Java.

Also on Wednesday, local Ambon council and provincial legislature demanded the central government to soon "take concrete measures to expel Laskar Jihad from Maluku".

"We call on President Abdurrahman Wahid and all related authorities to help Maluku's people. We also want stern actions imposed on rioters and for authorities to seize all weapons," deputy speaker of the council John Mariloa said.

Later in the day, Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela revealed that situation in Ambon was under control. (44/49/edt)