Fri, 12 May 2000

Lasker Jihad given a month to leave Maluku

AMBON, Maluku (JP): Maluku authorities have given a one month deadline to members of the Laskar Jihad Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jamaah Muslim group to leave the islands, or face forced expulsion.

The authorities, as well as the councillors, also warned Laskar Jihad to stay in one place and keep their promise of carrying out humanitarian activities in the archipelagic province.

"For even the slightest move that instigates chaos, we will directly call on all Maluku people, both Muslims and Christians, as well as security forces, to expel them from the islands," Governor Saleh Latuconsina said on Thursday.

The decision was reached during a coordination meeting between the governor, Pattimura Military Commander Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela and provincial council speaker John Mariloa which took place at about 11 p.m. on Wednesday.

The meeting was called in response to reports that hundreds of Laskar Jihad members had entered Maluku unhindered.

Tamaela revealed on Thursday that at least 500 members of the jihad force had been in Ambon and under the close scrutiny of the local security forces. Other reports put the number at 1,400.

"The data were obtained from the group's list," Tamaela said, adding that there were different reports about the exact number of jihad force members in Ambon.

Since the arrival of the group, Ambon has been tense, with the sounds of bombs exploding each night.

The administration is also considering a temporary ban on entry points for passenger ships across Maluku and North Maluku in a bid to prevent Laskar Jihad from causing trouble.

"I have issued the order to local port officials and am coordinating the plan with related institutions to ban passenger ships for a period of one month," Latuconsina said.

Latuconsina said the administration was working on further arrangements on the port ban, "During that period, only freight or cargo ships will be able to enter the islands."

Arrangements concerning the removal of the jihad force from the islands after they completed their activities would be made later, he said.

The governor expressed surprise and was upset by the way the Laskar Jihad members clandestinely entered unimpeded into his jurisdiction.

"As a Muslim and a chief of the administration, I am really disappointed with and concerned about the way they entered Maluku, despite an order from the President to deny them entry. They should have been banned from embarking for this province," Latuconsina said.

Tamaela said earlier that security personnel could not ban the jihad force members because they had not committed any crimes.

Councillor John Mariloa hailed the authorities' move to tighten the control over the Laskar Jihad members.

"I doubt their humanitarian motives here. They conducted massive war training in Bogor (West Java) instead of preaching about religious matters. So it is clear that they have come here to wage a war.

"We don't want them to create more chaos. Just leave us alone to settle our business," John said. (49/edt)