Thu, 13 Apr 2000

Police ban training activities for jihad volunteers

JAKARTA (JP): The National Police prohibited a Muslim organization on Wednesday from training volunteers to take part in a holy war in Maluku.

National Police chief Lt. Gen. Rusdihardjo announced the move after a Cabinet meeting led by Vice President Megawati Soekarnoputri.

Rusdihardjo urged Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama'ah Forum, the organization which has threatened to wage a jihad in Maluku, to voluntarily cease the training at a campground in Bogor.

He said he was reluctant to use force against the group. "(But) if they continue, we will take firm action against them."

Rusdihardjo also promised his officers would crack down on the group's members if they continued to carry sharp weapons during demonstrations.

The police have been criticized for failing to take action when the group's sword-wielding members staged protests outside the Presidential Palace last week and at the House of Representatives on Monday.

The police were also criticized for allowing the training in Bogor to proceed even as the government warned of the implications if the group went ahead with its plan to send volunteers to Maluku.

Police earlier said they were hesitant to act because the group was not involved in any illegal activities. The Siliwangi Military Command overseeing West Java also said it had known of the group's activities in Bogor for some time but had taken no action, pointing to the support the group received from local villagers.

The Muslim group has said it plans to send up to 10,000 trained volunteers to Maluku starting later this month because of the government's failure to protect Muslims in the province.

More than 2,000 people have died in sectarian clashes between Muslims and Christians in Maluku since January 1999.

There was no immediate reaction from the group to the police's ban on their training and the promise to take stern measures against members who carry weapons during demonstrations. The forum's leaders have warned against anyone, including the police, preventing them from going to Maluku, threatening to conduct their jihad in Java if they are prevented from traveling to Maluku.

Rusdihardjo showed some hesitation in dealing too sternly with the group. "We will take some action to stop them from going (to Maluku), but it will not be repressive action."

Following the Cabinet meeting, Minister of Religious Affairs Tolchah Hassan said sending armed men to Maluku would only worsen the conflict. "The situation there is improving, although some areas in Central Maluku need attention," he said.

Tolchah denounced the group for using Islamic symbols for their political goals, saying such practices denigrated the religion.

In Ambon, the Air Force's Eastern Fleet said it was tightening patrols of the waters surrounding Maluku in anticipation of the jihad volunteers attempting to enter the province.

"We have been ordered by the Indonesian Military chief to monitor every ship that comes into the area," Chief of Operations Rear Marshall Alimunsiri Rappe said.

The fleet operates out of Pattimura Airbase in Ambon and Morotai Airbase in North Maluku. The Navy's Eastern Armada has received similar orders.

In Surabaya, Nahdlatul Ulama (NU) announced plans for a mass rally of 200,000 youths to pledge support for President Abdurrahman Wahid and his efforts to resolve the conflict in Maluku.

The rally by members of Banser, NU's youth task force, on April 23 will be held at Brawijaya Military Command Headquarters, rally organizer M. Rofik said on Wednesday.

The President, who is a former leader of the Muslim organization, is expected to attend the rally.

M. Rofik, who is also chairman of NU's Ansor youth organization, said the group was concerned a jihad would cause greater problems for Maluku and the entire country.

Rofik denied the rally was being backed by the local military command, saying the use of the command headquarters simply showed Banser had the cooperation of the military.

Meanwhile, NU East Java chapter chairman Ali Maschan Moesa said groups calling for a jihad in Maluku did not represent all Muslims in Indonesia.

He called for a nonviolent approach to resolving the problems facing the country. (dja/49/nur/sur)