Mon, 10 Apr 2000

'Laskar Jihad' worry Bogor residents

BOGOR (JP): Residents of the otherwise peaceful Munjul village of Kayumanis in the Tanah Sareal district expressed on Sunday their deep concern and fear over the presence of the military- style training camp of the Laskar Jihad (Jihad Army).

The army has been giving training there since April 6 to some 3,150 male Muslim youths who are taking part in the first phase of a program which will end on April 16. The youths are scheduled to leave for Ambon on April 23.

"These men came on Thursday (April 6) and set a camp on the seven-hectare field, which is in this neighborhood unit. They go around in military pants, some go around holding swords and daggers... we are scared," said the wife of Botong, chief of RT (neighborhood unit) 006 of neighborhood community (RW) 05.

The camp is located on a field owned by the Al Irsad foundation, in the midst of a thick forest area in the 006 neighborhood unit. It is filled with some 300 pink and blue colored tents, which stand on bamboo, cut off from the abundant bamboo trees at the field.

"They don't say anything to us, but they really scare us. They all wear white Muslim garb and turbans... but underneath it we can see the military-style pants and combat boots. Why have they come here?"

A housewife, Iin, said the men were very particular about training.

"By dawn, they are already up and running... they run in thousands, past the Kayumanis Military Subdistrict Command (Koramil) and further. By 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. they are back. They train again at their camp and go running again at about 2 p.m.," Iin told The Jakarta Post.

"Nobody is allowed to enter their camp, except for Botong, and kids. Women are just forbidden to enter."

When the Post tried heading for the camp, which had a green flag with Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah written on it attached at the entry gate, they were stopped.

"Can't you read the sign: 'Reporters Not Allowed'?" one member said.

The Post heard commanders of the camp gathering their members, mostly holding sticks, swords and white flags with huge black crosses on them, to assemble at the open field.

Speaking via megaphones, the Post heard: "Batalyon Enam... disini... Batalyon Tujuh... kesini (Battalion Six... here... Battalion Seven ... here)."

The Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah Forum has planned to send 3,000 men to Maluku at the end of April, commander Jaffar Umar Thalib said.

Chairman Ayip Syafruddin said the group hoped to send 10,000 people to Maluku eventually. The volunteers are being trained at the camp by men with experience in the Afghanistan, Bosnia and Moro (Philippines) wars, Ayip said.

According to a police source, the "holy men" were probably not only being trained by men with experience in the Afghanistan, Bosnia and Moro (Philippines) wars, but were also sent to Moro and other countries, for training.

The group's activities have drawn concern of the National Awakening Party (PKB).

Chairman of PKB faction at the House of Representatives Taufiqurrahman Saleh called on the police to disband the camp and seize their weapons.

"Instead of helping solve the problem (sectarian violence in Maluku), they would only terrify people. They would also frighten off foreign investors," Taufiqurrahman told the Post.

He said the police should have confiscated the swords and machetes carried by demonstrators during a rally outside the presidential palace on Friday.

He believed the vast rally was funded by people who have their own political agendas, including undermining the legitimate government of President Abdurrahman Wahid.

Chairman of the Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) Muslim Organization Hasyim Muzadi indicated that certain people or groups funded the jihad group.

"I suspect that a 'company' with huge funds and certain political interests is providing financial aid to the group," Hasyim, who recently replaced President Abdurrahman as NU chairman, said as quoted by Antara.

He regretted the police's failure to arrest the leaders of the demonstrators although many of them carried swords and machetes, during the rally on Friday.

He said NU had from the outset opposed the idea of a holy war in Maluku to defend Muslims, saying that it would create other problems.

House Speaker Akbar Tandjung has also asked the jihad group to cancel its plan to send "trained warriors" to Maluku, saying that it would create bigger problems.

The group's chairman, Ayip Syafruddin, announced on Friday that some 3,000 volunteers were being trained in a camp in the Kayumanis area in Bogor.

Ayip said the volunteers, who were being trained by men with combat experience, would be shipped to Maluku later this month.

Separately, a Tablig Akbar (Mass gathering) of around 2,000 people in Surakarta was held on Sunday, in a bid to show resistance towards President Abdurrahman Wahid's proposal to lift the ban on communism.

The gathering, held at Wisma Bathari, was attended by chairman of the Indonesian Committee for World Muslim Solidarity (KISDI) Ahmad Sumargono, poet Taufik Ismail and Husein Umar of the Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia (DDII) Muslim organization. (21/44/edt/jun/ylt)