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Islamic extremism gains a foothold in Christian Papua

South China Morning Post - February 19, 2003

John Martinkus, Jakarta – On December 28 last year a car carrying the wife and daughter of a prominent Papuan human rights activist was ambushed by unidentified gunmen between the border posts of Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

More than 40 bullets were fired at the vehicle and the wife and daughter of Johannes Bonay, head of ELSHAM – a group that monitors human rights abuses in Papua – were among the three seriously injured in the attack. When an Indonesian police investigation team visited the scene on January 1 they too were shot at and forced to flee.

The list of suspects in the attack is a long one. The mainly Christian Papua province-PNG border area has become home to Islamic fighters of Muslim extremist group Laskar Jihad, Papuan militia groups trained by Indonesia's Kopassus special forces, and Free Papuan Movement (OPM) guerillas.

Mr Bonay cannot carry out the investigation into who shot his wife and daughter, although such incidents are usually the domain of his organisation. "When we go there we are going into a very dark cloud. There are armed men and you don't know whether they are militia, [Indonesian military], OPM or Laskar Jihad," he said.

A police investigation into the shooting said Indonesian had been seen in the area at the time of the ambush, but inquiries are continuing. What has emerged is that the northern area of the Papua-PNG border is now a training area for Islamic militants backed by the Indonesian military.

"Laskar Jihad is now in several forms," says Thom Beanal, head of the pro-Independence Papuan Presidium Council. "They can be militia or a kind of military supporting group, with some local Papuans recruited by the military," he said. "Laskar Jihad is consolidating itself here. When they said they disbanded in the Malukus after the Bali bombing, it does not mean that they have stopped their activities here."

The Islamic militants of Laskar Jihad have been arriving in Papua from the conflict in Ambon for the past two years. The setting up of an office in the town of Sorong last year was a front for their activities in that area which locals say included the establishment of 12 training camps that were in remote areas and guarded by members of Kopassus.

According to presidium member Willy Mandowen, the office in Sorong was visited by members of Jemaah Islamiah before the bombing in Bali last October. Now they are operating in the border area with Papua New Guinea. "They have weapons from the Indonesian military. They are trained in these camps by Kopassus," says Lawrence Mehui, who has carried out an investigation of these groups for the presidium.

In the transmigrant settlements near the town of Arso, close to the border, the Javanese members of Laskar Jihad have been recruiting and training transmigrants and local Papuans in conjunction with members of Kopassus. "We have information from when Kopassus had a meeting with the local people in Arso in November. The local people come and tell us that there is a direct connection with the Kopassus members and the Islamic groups," says Lawrence Muhui.

ELSHAM says the groups of Laskar Jihad and locally recruited militia on the border are being formed into operational support groups for military operations trained by Kopassus. "If we analyse the reports made by the people and the investigations made by the police we can ascertain that Kopassus is behind this," Mr Mehui said. "The rhetoric of the Laskar Jihad groups fits comfortably with the aims of the Indonesian military in Papua. One of their objectives is to protect the unity of Indonesia in Papua. They are using Islam to claim they are fighting against the Kaffir here in Papua," says Mr Bonay. ELSHAM says the border activity has been accompanied by 20 recent unsolved murders.