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ICC Note: When someone says that things are on the right track in central Sulawesi where the Christians have taken a beating you know things are headed in the wrong direction.

INDONESIA : FORMER ISLAMIST MILITANT LEADER LAUDS GOVERNMENT

10/25/06 Indonesia (AKI) – The former leader of a disbanded Indonesian Islamist militant group has praised the Jakarta government’s handling of recent sectarian strife in the country’s Central Sulawesi region. “The government is on the right path and the situation [in Central Sulawesi ] is under control,” Jafar Umar Thalib told Adnkronos International (AKI) in an interview. Thalib said he saw no need to re-establish his former group, Laskar Jihad, created in 2000 by Muslims as a means of countering what they said was persecution at the hands of Christians in the Moluccas Islands .

Some 10,000 people were killed in the sectarian fighting in the islands before a peace accord ended the violence in 2001.

“The decision to disband Laskar Jihad in 2002 came about not because of external pressure but through our belief that the government’s good faith and efforts were helping to end the conflict,” said Jafar, who is also a veteran of the Muslim mujahadeen’s fight against the Soviet occupation in Afghanistan in the late 1980s.

Still, in contrast to Jafar’s optimism, many experts believe that religious tension in Central Sulawesi has reached boiling point. On Tuesday a Christian Church was attacked and a Muslim man was killed in a clash with police. The latest violence follows the recent bombings in the region and the murder in separate incidents of two Muslims and a Protestant Christian priest, Irianto Kongkali.

The current tension was first triggered by the 22 September execution of three Christian men – Fabianus Tibo, Marinus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva – who were convicted of instigating violence against Muslims five years ago. The death sentences were carried out despite numerous appeals for clemency, including one from Pope Benedict XVI.

Jafar confirmed reports that some former Laskar Jihad militants were still present in the region.

“But they are not involved in the conflict. Their task is to improve the local population’s knowledge of Islam and to monitor the situation,” he told AKI.

Jafar, a father of 14 children who is widely respected in Indonesia , was acquitted on charges relation to the 1998-2001 violence in the Moluccas .

He was first arrested and then released in 2000 for having set up an illegal Islamic sharia law tribunal that sentenced an alleged rapist to death by stoning. According to local press reports at the time, Jafar threw the first stone at the man when the sentence was carried out.

Adnkronon International