WEST PAPUA FEARS ARRIVAL OF MILITANT MUSLIMS

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By Craig Skehan Foreign Affairs Correspondent

SYDNEY, Australia (June 1, 2002 – Sydney Morning Herald)---At least four boatloads of Muslim migrants -- including many members of the militant Laskar Jihad -- had arrived during the past week in the restive Indonesian province of West Papua, independence activists said yesterday.

This coincided with reports that 150 hardened Indonesian special combat troops were being dispatched to West Papua from the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Elements of the Indonesian military have been accused of backing the Laskar Jihad (Holy War Fighters), which during the past two years has been involved in bloody attacks on Christians in Maluku and Central Sulawesi provinces.

Growing numbers of Laskar Jihad in West Papua threaten communal clashes with the largely Christian indigenous population.

"This is being overseen and organized by the Indonesian Army," said Greg Polgrain, a lecturer at the University of Queensland. "They are nearly all young men, not transmigration families.

"I am informed there are members of the Laskar Jihad in each group."

Dr. Polgrain estimated that between 4,000 and 7,000 Muslim migrants, with a substantial Laskar Jihad component, were arriving in West Papua weekly.

"Laskar Jihad are training with arms and that is pretty serious," he said.

Dr. Polgrain visited the province this month and is in regular contact with human rights and church groups there.

A pro-independence pastor, Martin Luther Wanma, yesterday sent a letter from Sorong, in the far east of West Papua, to supporters in Australia expressing fear for his safety.

Thousand of Muslim migrants have arrived in Sorong since February.

Pastor Wanma said in his letter that he had been told by a senior police officer that action was planned against him: "The main reason for my imminent arrest is my objection to the Laskar Jihad coming to West Papua. As a human being I would like to inform you in Australia that I am in great danger."

Obet Rawar, from the human rights group Elsham, based in the capital of West Papua, Jayapura, said last night that new evidence was being collected on Indonesian special forces troops being used to establish pro-Jakarta militias.

He said it had been confirmed there were now eight Pakistani Muslim militants in Sorong involved in weapons training of Indonesian Muslim militants.

There have been unconfirmed reports that a small number of West Papuan Muslims are involved.

Recently, the United States ambassador to Indonesia traveled to Irian Jaya on a fact-finding mission on issues including the allegations of links between the Indonesian military and the Laskar Jihad.

He was accompanied by U.S. military personnel.

Official and spontaneous migration over many years means Muslims comprise nearly half of West Papua's 2.5 million population. Previously the overwhelming majority were Christians and animists.

Logging interests, some closely connected elements of the military and the Suhartos have been accused of backing West Papuan anti-independence forces.

For additional reports from The Sydney Morning Herald, go to PACIFIC ISLANDS REPORT News/Information Links: Newspapers/Sydney (Australia) Morning Herald.

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