Published: 12:51 GMT Standard Time - Wednesday 05 March 2003
Laskar Jihad, Alive and Well in Papua
Islamic militant group Laskar Jihad, which announced it was disbanding last October, is alive and well in Indonesia’s eastern region of Papua.
Over 2000 Laskar Jihad Islamic extremist fighters have established themselves in at least twelve different military training camps in Papua (formerly Irian Jaya), according to recent reports from Papuan human rights groups. Laskar Jihad is being armed, funded and protected by the Indonesian military, and is reported to be particularly active in the highlands on the north of the island, along its border with Papua New Guinea. At the border town of Arso, Laskar Jihad members are said to be actively recruiting and training both local Papuans and migrants from the country’s more populous western islands such as Java and Sumatra. The latest reports of Laskar Jihad’s activities in the region confirm the fears of many Indonesian Christians that Laskar Jihad is still very much active despite its announcement that it was disbanding last October.
LASKAR JIHAD IN PAPUA
The notorious Islamic militant group first began to arrive in Papua two years ago. In 2002 they established an office in Sorong. In the area of Fak Fak over 175 boats carrying Laskar Jihad personnel and equipment are said to have arrived along the coast between April and June 2002. Several Christians reported discovering stockpiles of weapons. A number of Pakistani and Afghan mujahideen, thought to have come to join in the jihad against local Christians, were sighted. Laskar Jihad’s magazine, which contains articles attacking Christians, Jews and the US, began to be sold openly in markets in Papua, together with T-shirts, DVDs and books on Osama bin Laden.
The group began forming links with local authorities, police and army units, and with the pro-Jakarta militia Satgas Merah Putih, which opposes Papuan calls for independence from Indonesia. Laskar Jihad is also believed to be trying to seek favour with the local Muslim population, although the majority of Papuan Muslims reject the Jihad’s presence as a dangerous destabilising factor in an already extremely tense region. Local Christians believe the failure of police and army units to stop Laskar Jihad from expanding its military campaign into Papua further confirms their complicity in the Jihad’s activities. Last summer four Laskar Jihad members carrying homemade guns were seized by Christians and handed over to the authorities. No action was taken against them. Others who have reported Laskar Jihad activities to the authorities say that they have been harassed, threatened with arrest themselves, and even received intimidating phonecalls late at night.
FAILURE TO DISBAND
Laskar Jihad achieved international notoriety for waging a genocidal holy war against Christians in Indonesia’s Moluccas and Sulawesi regions for over 20 months from May 2000 until peace agreements were reached for Sulawesi in December 2001 and the Moluccas in February 2002. Even after the peace was formally declared – a peace which was rejected and never accepted by Laskar Jihad – the group continued to launch murderous attacks on Christian villages, homes and churches. Some 10,000 people were killed (some estimates suggest 30,000) and half a million displaced during the conflict. Local Christians were murdered, tortured, forcibly converted to Islam, forcibly circumcised and virtually enslaved. During 2001 and 2002 Laskar Jihad began to expand its activities sending militants to the provinces of Aceh and Papua, at opposite ends of the country. However, in October 2002 in the immediate aftermath of the Bali bombing the group suddenly announced it was disbanding.
Despite overwhelming evidence of the organization’s involvement in mass murder and appalling human rights abuses the Indonesian authorities have repeatedly failed to act against Laskar Jihad. In January 2003 the group’s leader Jafar Umar Thalib was found not guilty of inciting hatred and religious violence by an East Jakarta court despite overwhelming evidence. Arrested in May 2002, whilst in jail he was visited by Indonesia’s Vice President Hamzah Has, and was soon released on bail. His trial was postponed in August 2002 because, as the judge stated, “I see that you’re pale. We don’t want to examine someone who is unhealthy … I hope you can get well soon”. Senior elements in the police, military and government appear to be supporting Laskar Jihad and protecting it from prosecution.
Resource rich West Papua was annexed by Indonesia in 1963, since which time the majority-Christian Papuan people have struggled for their independence from repressive Indonesian rule. The arrival of Laskar Jihad in the region, and its apparent close connection with the army, has prompted fears that the group will be used as a militia by the military to repress the local Christian population and the separatist OPM movement. During its occupation of East Timor Indonesia gained international notoriety for allowing pro-Indonesian militias to brutally terrorise the local Timorese population with impunity. The bloody conflict between Muslims and Christians in the Moluccas and Sulawesi was also seen by many Indonesian Muslims as a Christian separatist conflict in which the Muslim Laskar Jihad was preserving Indonesian national unity. This is an erroneous viewpoint which bears no relation to the realities of the conflict. Now Papua’s Christians fear that Laskar Jihad will be given a free hand to wage another bloody campaign in their homeland.
At the opposite end of the Indonesian archipelago Indonesia’s restive Aceh province, where separatist sentiments are also strong, has this month announced the opening of its first Shari’ah court. In January 2002 the strongly Islamic province became the only part of Indonesia where Islamic law (Shari’ah) is enforced as part of a special autonomy agreement aimed at countering a violent separatist movement fighting for an independent Islamic state. Governor Abdullah Puteh has assured non-Muslims, “We guarantee that Shari’ah in Aceh will not diminish the rights of non-Muslims to practise their religion and their daily activities.” However, Christians in the province are concerned that the rights and freedoms of non-Muslims will inevitably be undermined by the Shari’ah, just as they have been in other parts of the world where full Shari’ah has been introduced in recent years such as North Nigeria, despite similar promises. Last September Islamic authorities in the province closed down 17 churches, setting a worrying precedent for the future of the local Christian community under the Shari’ah.
- Pray for a complete and genuine disarmament of Laskar Jihad, that it will cease all its activities and disband for real. Pray for protection for local Christians in Papua, that they will not become the helpless victims of militias like Laskar Jihad.
- Pray that the Lord will reveal Himself in dramatic ways to members of Laskar Jihad and other Islamic militants in Papua, that their eyes might be opened to the suffering they are causing and that they will repent of their use of violence.
- Pray for a real and lasting peace in Papua, that both the Indonesian authorities and Papuan separatists will completely reject the use of violence and pursue their objectives solely through peaceful democratic means.
- Pray for Christians and other non-Muslims in Aceh, that their rights and freedoms will be protected despite the introduction of the Shari’ah.
- Pray for the military, police force and governing authorities in Indonesia that they will perform their roles justly, and that all people in the country, whether Christian, Muslim, Hindu or Buddhist (Indonesia’s four main faith communities), will be treated equally and fairly and their rights respected.