Tue, 11 Apr 2000

Muslim group raises ante in holy war plan

JAKARTA (JP): In spite of appeals and warnings, a Muslim organization stepped up its pressure to send volunteers on a jihad in strife-torn Maluku on Monday, calling for the removal of President Abdurrahman Wahid from office.

Leaders of the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah Forum also threatened to wage a holy war in Java if the authorities prevented their volunteers from leaving for Maluku later this month.

Some 1,000 members of the group visited the House of Representatives on Monday to make their point by words of mouth as well as by a show of force.

They arrived in buses and trucks, wearing Muslim garb and headdress and carrying swords and machetes.

As they marched toward the third-floor office of House Speaker Akbar Tandjung, some drew their swords, frightening hundreds of workers of shoe company PT Kong Tai who have been protesting in the House building for several weeks.

The group's "commander" Jaffar Umar Thalib during the meeting demanded that Akbar's Golkar Party, along with other factions in the House, initiate the constitutional process to impeach the President for making controversial statements.

The group was particularly offended by the President's remarks last week that Muslims in Maluku had received special treatment from the government over the last 30 years or so and that this in turn had frustrated the Christians, causing conflict between the two communities.

Forum chairman Ayip Syafruddin Soeratman told reporters after the meeting that the volunteers would still travel to Maluku after completing their training this month, irrespective of the appeals and warnings against their plan.

"If we cannot go, then we will conduct our jihad on Java," Ayip said. "We will attack Christians who are most responsible for what is happening in Ambon," he announced.

Some 3,000 volunteers of the group are currently training in a camp in Kayumanis district in Bogor.

More than 2,000 people have been killed in sectarian clashes between Muslims and Christians in Maluku since January last year. The government says the situation has been brought under control, with fewer clashes reported in recent weeks.

House Speaker Akbar did not respond to the group's call for impeachment, but said he would ask the President to refrain from issuing more controversial statements.

Akbar also pleaded with the group not to go ahead with its plan to go to Maluku, saying members of the group were bound to get into physical clashes with people of other communities.

If they really want to help the Maluku people, then they should send food, clothes and medicine instead, he said.

Sending volunteers would only create new problems, he said, adding that they should let the proper authority worry about the security situation in Maluku.

In Ambon, Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela, chief of Pattimura Military Command which oversees Maluku, warned against anyone planning to wage any kind of war in the province.

Maluku is now entering a process of peace and reconciliation and people are tired of conflict, Tamaela said.

"We are ready to face them. If these volunteers come with the intention to help their sisters and brothers, that's fine. But if they come here to cause more trouble, the security forces will be ready to deal with them," Tamaela said.

In Jakarta, Minister of Religious Affairs Tolchah Hasan asked the police to disband the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah Forum, which he said had questionable intentions.

"As we can see, the situation in Ambon is improving. These people would only cause more problems," Tolchah told The Jakarta Post.

"If they want to support peace, then we should let them go. But I don't think that's their real intention," he said.

In spite of the appeals to crack down on their activities, National Police chief Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo ruled out immediate confrontation with the group, saying he would use the persuasive approach to prevent the volunteers from going to Maluku.

"It's pointless to take repressive action given the present emotional feeling of the group's members," Rusdihardjo said after attending a ceremony to dissolve the Coordinating Agency to Support the Strengthening of National Stability (Bakorstanas).

The police will continue to use this approach as long as the group does not disrupt peace and order, he said.

The police have been criticized for allowing the group's members to brandish swords and machetes in several demonstrations they have held since Thursday.

Maj. Gen. Slamet Supriadi, chief of Siliwangi Military Command overseeing West Java, said the authorities had long known of the group's activities in the Bogor camp.

Slamet said the villagers did not complain and had in fact supplied rice to the organizers. (jun/49/edt/dja/rms)