Tue, 23 May 2000

Laskar Jihad warned over its aggressive activities

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Chief of the Pattimura Military Command overseeing Maluku Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela warned members of Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah (Jihad Force) on Monday to cease all aggressive activity or face the wrath of the military.

"Do not die in vain. We don't need another conflict, so the Laskar Jihad better not try to instigate more riots. That goes also for other camps," he said.

"I have ordered all field commanders to take firm action ... Whoever starts a fight, hit them," Tamaela told journalists.

Tamaela claimed the situation in the city was now under control following a six-day fray which began last Tuesday and claimed at least 40 lives.

"Some members of Laskar Jihad, however, were still seen grouping at street corners," he added.

Reports vary on the number of Laskar Jihad here, from about 1,200 to 2,200 people.

As of Monday evening, sounds of explosions were still heard from disputed Batu Merah, Mardika district, as security forces conducted patrols.

Two hundred soldiers from Sriwijaya's 141th Infantry Battalion, who arrived in the city on Sunday, were deployed on Monday to support the Air Force's Paskhas elite unit guarding Pattimura Airport as well as the neighboring disputed villages of Laha, Hattu and Tawiri.

A Maluku administration official who asked for anonymity said that many Laskar Jihad volunteers were now seeking refuge and asking to be deported from Ambon.

"They felt deceived by their commanders as they were told earlier only to conduct humanitarian activities here. It turns out that they were ordered to join the battle and many have sought help to go home. Three of them have personally asked for my help to leave Ambon," he said.

Earlier, at about noon, some 100 Ahuru villagers, mostly housewives, staged a protest in front of the governor's office demanding the Laskar Jihad be banished from Ambon.

"We want the governor to arrange their departure immediately," An Haulussy, the group's coordinator, said after meeting with Governor Saleh Latuconsina.

"They burned our houses and churches," Haulussy said, adding that Tamaela must also withdraw the Army Strategic Reserves Command's (Kostrad) 303rd battalion from Maluku as there was strong evidence to implicate their involvement in an arson attack on houses in Ahuru.


Meanwhile, in Yogyakarta, Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah spokesman Ayip Syafruddin told The Jakarta Post and Bernas daily on Monday that there was a systematic campaign to discredit the force.

"There have been provocative actions against Laskar Jihad and Muslims in general to kick Laskar Jihad members out of Ambon," Ayip said.

"Members of Laskar Jihad, and Muslims in general, were provoked and that's how the clash erupted."

Asked if Laskar Jihad was directly responsible for the fatal clashes, Ayip replied: "The involvement of Laskar Jihad was a reflection of self-defense. If you're going to be killed, will you do nothing?"

He reiterated that the Laskar Jihad members were committed to their humanitarian and preaching activities in Ambon.

He added that there were now 2,500 Laskar Jihad members in Maluku. "We'll send 500 more to make the number 3,000 by the end of this month."

Unconfirmed reports from Ambon say that almost 100 members of Laskar Jihad have been killed in the conflict. (49/44/edt/sur)