Holy war brewing in troubled Ambon

By Lindsay Murdoch 

25 April 2000 (The Age - Melbourne, Australia) -- Indonesian 
authorities appear powerless to stop tens of thousands of Muslims 
who are threatening to launch a jihad or holy war against Christians
in the violence-racked Ambon island group. 

Threats of stepped up attacks by so-called Muslim warriors against
Christians defy President Abdurrahman Wahid, who angered Muslim groups when
he said the mistreatment of Christians caused the violence and that
previous governments had given special treatment to Muslims in the islands
"like golden boys".

Religious violence in the spice-island chain, known as the Maluku group,
has already killed 2470 people and wounded 2835 others in the past 14
months, according to Indonesia's National Commission on Human Rights.

Muslim groups claim that at least 3000 members of a jihad force of 10,000,
which has been doing paramilitary training outside Jakarta, are set to
arrive in North Maluku province.

Leaders of a group called the Islamic Defence Front say the fighters will
join tens of thousands of others who attended a mass rally in the town of
Ternate on Sunday. 

Two home-made bombs exploded during the rally, killing one person and
wounding seven others. Also on Sunday at least four people were killed
during fighting on the island of Seram, 80 kilometres east of Ambon.

The violence has exacerbated tension between Mr Wahid and the influential
Parliament speaker Amien Rais, who has given tacit support to the jihad. Dr
Rais, a former chairman of the 30-million strong Islamic group
Muhammadiyah, was among the speakers at a rally in Jakarta in January where
the idea of a jihad was first put forward unless the government failed to
quickly stem the violence.

Mr Wahid has been engaged in a war of words with Dr Rais over the
government's handling of sectarian and other violence in the country and
plans to revoke a decades-old decree banning communism. Mr Wahid on Sunday
urged Dr Rais to remain "level-headed and respectful" and for the two men
not to "blindly attack each other".

Dr Rais, whose support for Mr Wahid was a key to his winning office last
October, said last week that he would give the president another year to
improve his performance, adding: "I did not give him a blank cheque to do
whatever he wanted after taking office."

Analysts say Mr Wahid is counting on the police and military in the islands
to prevent the jihad warriors from Java joining local Muslim groups.

While the national police chief Lieutenant-General Rusdihardjo said police
would never allow civilian fighters to be sent to the islands, the
country's armed forces have yet to crackdown on the jihad forces, who
claimed they had large caches of weapons, some of which were bought in the
southern Philippines.

When the group made known its plans in late March for a 10-day training
camp to open in Bogor, local police and military authorities made no
objection.

According to the Far Eastern Economic Review magazine, the trainee fighters
are receiving financial backing by unnamed leaders in Yogyakarta.

Mr Wahid, however, has shown less tolerance to the fighters, ordering a
group of their representatives from his office when they went to see him.

Vice-President Megawati Sukarnoputri is scheduled to visit Maluku province
this week. 

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