ASIA/INDONESIA - Could more than 12,000 radical Laskar Jihad Muslim paramilitaries be ready to land in Moluccas? The Pope prays for peace in the archipelago

Monday, 3 May 2004

Ambon (Fides Service) - “At this time of suffering and tension the Holy Father assures the entire Christian community of his paternal affection and solidarity and his prayers for a swift return of public order and peaceful relations between the different social and religious groups”: this is part of a Letter addressed to Bishop Petrus Canisius Mandagi, Catholic Bishop of Amboina in the Moluccas by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, Vatican secretary of state assuring the Christian community that the Pope is praying for the victims of the violence and is spiritually close to all the families affected by the violence.
According to a report sent to Fides by the Amboina Diocese Crisis Centre, on May 2, violence in Moluccas which began on 25 April have caused the death of 37 persons and left 211 wounded, of whom 86 are in hospital. The injured and homeless receive free medical assistance.
In the meantime in Ambon the police is trying to repress the separatist uprising which started a new wave of violence with a demonstration on 25 April. Investigators have identified and are searching for 295 suspects.
In the city there is calm, but tension is still high: some of the streets are still barricaded and many who fled their homes are still too afraid to return. The city is quieter than usual and there is less traffic than usual.
There is fear among local Christians, Protestants and Catholics: there are rumours confirmed by eyewitnesses that radical Muslims of the Laskar Jihad paramilitary group have been seen near Ambon, near the village of Kuda Mati. The news was confirmed to Fides by reliable sources in the Moluccas and in Jakarta, which refer to about 12,000 militants sent from outside the islands to increase the violence. If they enter the city there will a massacred and the situation will become “war”, say Fides sources which ask not to be named for security reasons.
Indonesia’s interior minister Hari Subarno publicly warned Laskar Jihad not to send volunteers to the Islands. Laskar Jihad disbanded in 2002, when a peace agreement was signed. Bishop Petrus Mandagi, Catholic Bishop of Amboina. In an exclusive interview with Fides the Bishop said: “ In the case of foreign interventions, such as the arrival of Laskar Jihad, the conflict could degenerate. The central and local authorities must take the situation in hand to prevent this from happening ”.
(PA) (Agenzia Fides 3/5/2004 lines 40 words 453)