Tue, 18 Apr 2000

'Laskar Jihad' vacates training camp

BOGOR (JP): After a one-day delay, thousands of members of Laskar Jihad (Jihad Force) vacated the military-style training camp in Munjul village under tight police security in the early hours of Monday.

The group commander, Jaffar Umar Thalib, said they were moving their main base to Kaliurang, some 15 kilometers north of Yogyakarta, via the southern route through Bandung, the capital of West Java.

"Many of our members will also go to their respective hometowns for a couple of days before rejoining the Jihad Force training in Kaliurang," Jaffar said, while helping his men get on the buses.

The Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah Forum volunteers will be further selected for deployment in Maluku at the end of this month after undergoing training at several Islamic boarding schools in Central Java.

About 3,000 members boarded a total of 37 chartered buses headed for various destinations, including Yogyakarta, Depok, Bandung, Cirebon, Surakarta, Cilacap, Wonogiri, Malang and Surabaya and cities outside Java, such as Medan in North Sumatra.

Others who live closer to the camp, which is located some 55 kilometers south of Jakarta, traveled by train and public bus, Jaffar said.

Bogor Regional Police, in coordination with the West Java Police, escorted the group to the border of Central Java.

"The training ground in Munjul has been emptied and only 20 people are left to pack and guard the provisions, such as tents and chairs, as a lot of it was rented and has not yet been returned," Jaffar said.

Police had ordered the forum, whose members had staged armed protests in Jakarta earlier this month, to leave the training camp and warned they would use force if the group failed to do so.

The chartered bus managements of Mitra Rajasa and Nan Tungga told The Jakarta Post on Monday that they previously had no idea that their buses, along with those from other companies, would be rented by Laskar Jihad members.

"Our buses, along with others from Damri, Giri Indah, Limas, Merdeka, Andalas and Waspada, were chartered for Rp 800,000 to Rp 1 million per bus," Mitra Rajasa official Zaenal said.

"Actually the price is much higher as the ticket for a trip to Central Java is Rp 22,000 per person for nonair-conditioned buses and Rp 27,000 each for air-conditioned buses," Zaenal said, adding that the group told them they had no more money to pay for extra expenses.

An employee of the National Land Agency (BPN), Ibrahim Sipala, was among the officials who escorted the group's departure as he was looking for the sons of his friend, Lukman Rauf and Arfan, who reportedly joined the Jihad Force.

"My friend asked me to check on the two boys but it was futile," he said.

The forum repeated their pledge on Sunday to send 3,000 volunteers to Maluku in late April to protect fellow Muslims involved in a year of communal clashes there, which have claimed at least 2,000 lives.

Jaffar said their main mission would be to propagate Islam, but added that the volunteers were prepared to anticipate "attacks by enemies".

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

As many as 3,150 Muslim youths have taken part in the military-style training in Munjul village of the Kayumanis area in the Tanah Sareal district in Bogor since April 6 on 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 had harmed the environment by using the nearby Cibadak River and cutting trees down without permission.

A local said the group donated eight goats to the residents.

It is said that the group received the goats from the Bogor regent, but refused to consume them because "they were not obtained by halal (allowed by Islamic law) money".

Official confirmation from the regent was not available. (21/edt)