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Indonesia Muslim Militants Expand to Papua Province - 2002-01-23


Indonesia's militant Muslim group, Laskar Jihad, or Holy War Soldiers, has expanded from the war-torn Malukus to Papua province where they are training pro-Jakarta militias, a local human rights group says. John Rumbiak of the Papuan human rights group ELSHAM says Laksar Jihad has sent more than 100 members to the district of Fak Fak, to operate military training camps. Mr. Rumbiak says Indonesian authorities back the training, an allegation police have denied. Mr. Rumbiak says all six of ELSHAM human right's monitors in Fak Fak had received death threats for reporting on the Laskar Jihad presence. He says the Laksar Jihad was called into Fak Fak, which is a predominately Muslim area in Christian-dominated Papua province, to train anti-independence militias.

Similar militias were used in East Timor, allegedly with the backing of the Indonesian military, to stop the independence movement there. East Timor broke away from Indonesia in a U.N. sponsored vote in 1999.

Indonesia is determined that Papua, which has been fighting for independence since the 1960s, and the separatist province of Aceh, will not break away.

Mr. Rumbiak says the security forces are using the Laskar Jihad to quell rising independence sentiment in the resource-rich province. Although police in Papua deny the presence of Laskar Jihad, they have arrested one man from the Malukus in Fak Fak, for possessing firearms, explosives, and a video cassette showing Muslim battles in the Malukus. Police call it an isolated incident.

U.S. and Asian intelligence officials say Laskar Jihad is linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaida network. However, the group's leader, Jafar Umar Thalib, who fought with the Mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s, denies any ties to al-Qaida.

Mr. Thalib has said that last year he turned down financial aid and an offer of an alliance from a bin Laden aide.

Laskar Jihad sent more than 3,000 soldiers to the Maluku islands to fight Christians. More than 5,000 people have died there during three years of religious violence. The group recently sent hundreds of fighters to the Central Sulawesi town of Poso, where hundreds have died in Muslim-Christian clashes.