There is disturbing news about the plight of Christians in Indonesia. Jubilee Campaign and Christian Solidarity Worldwide have warned that fighters from the Laskar Jihad, the militant Islamic group responsible for killing thousands of Christians in the Moluccas islands and Sulawesi in eastern Indonesia have now infiltrated into the Indonesian province of West Papua.
These militants are training local militia who support Indonesian control over West Papua. Laskar Jihad has sent more than 100 of its armed fighters into the district of Fak Fak, and is operating military training camps there.
Unrest and fear have also spread through the Christian community in Sorong District, West Papua, where recently arrived Laskar Jihad fighters have been trying to provoke religious tensions.
In 2000 the Laskar Jihad started by invading the Moluccas islands. Then they moved on to Sulawesi and now they are starting to infiltrate West Papua where there is a very large Christian community.
Without urgent action there will be more bloodshed and carnage.
So who are Lakkar Jihad?
It is comprised of extremists from different parts of Indonesia some from Afghanistan and Pakistan. They are committed to “holy war.”
In May 2000 it was they who rekindled the conflict in the Moluccas islands by invading with 7000 fighters. Thousands died as the levels of violence rose to unprecedented levels.
Last December Indonesia’s National Intelligence Agency confirmed that members of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network had joined Laskar Jihad militants in attacking Christians in Sulawesi. Under pressure the Agency later withdrew the statement – although the truth of it has never been doubted.
Laskar Jihad have already inflicted major casualties as they foment a brew of religious hatred systematic violence. Previously peaceable areas where co-existence of Christians and Muslims was the norm have become killing fields.
In Central Sulawesi about 20,000 Christians have fled from their torched villages to Tentena, a village of about 8,000 inhabitants. As Laskar Jihad has systematically targeted and destroyed Christian villages, thousands of Christians have become internally displaced.
Their resources are limited so they are living in miserable conditions. The Christians in Tentena are cut off and surrounded by thousands of Islamic fighters and if the Indonesian police and military fail to protect Tentena there will be a massive bloodbath.
In the Moluccas Islands – better known to my generation as the Spice Islands – the scandal remains of the desperate plight of at least three thousand Christians who have been forced by militants to convert to Islam in the islands of Halmahera, Bacan, Buru and Seram. The Indonesian government has so far refused to evacuate these forced converts to a place of safety where they can safely revert back to practising their Christian faith.
The government of Indonesia needs to take firm and long term measures to control and disband militant groups in their country such as the Laskar Jihad. These organisations are likely to only grow stronger and more effective in inciting sectarian violence throughout the country if the Indonesian authorities simply try to appease and accommodate them.