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Fundamentalist Islamic militants active in West Papua

ABC World Today - August 27, 2003

Peter Cave: Despite claims that Indonesian forces have cracked down on Radical Islamists in the Indonesian province of West Papua, the separatist movement there says Laskar Jihad is still active and being supported by local Indonesian military.

In May this year, up to 10 villages in the West Papuan highlands were burned and at least 20 people were killed, in what local people claim were terrorist actions attacks by groups linked to Jemaah Islamiah. The OPM, or West Papua Movement, says little has been done to crack down on Islamic militias in West Papua. Dr John Ondawame is a spokesman for OPM. Hamish Fitzsimmons called him at his office in Vanuatu.

John Ondawame: It's become clear that Laskar Jihad, an Islamic extremist group in Indonesia is directly linked with terrorist organisations. What you call now, al-Qaeda. There is no doubt that these links were proved by the cases of the bombing in Bali last year, and also in Jakarta, this year.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: Laskar Jihad were meant to have disbanded after the Bali bombing, though, last year.

John Ondawame: The Indonesian Foreign Minister, Wirayuda, at the Pacific Island Forum, after the dialogue partners meeting in Auckland, confirmed that Laskar Jihad Islamic extremists and al-Qaeda have a strong link. It is no doubt. But regarding the [inaudible] in West Papua, I have to say that there is, of course, a very direct link between these two, three extremist groups and terrorist organisations. We are afraid that what happened in Bali or in Jakarta or elsewhere in Indonesia will repeat again in West Papua.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: What's been the activities of Islamic fundamentalist groups in West Papua over the last six months?

John Ondawame: They continue various activities. For instance, they are training local militias in the many parts of West Papua, particularly in the Baliem Valley. It has become clear that 80 Dani people were trained by the Islamic extremist groups. And then we have a list of names of the West Papuans who were directly involve in those activities.

ELSHAM office or the Institute for Human Rights Studies and Advocacy, the office in Jayapura, have confirmed that these activities have been going on for many years. But in Jakarta, they continue to deny the presence of extremists and also Laskar Jihad in West Papua.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: So, this has been going on over the last few months?

John Ondawame: Yes, absolutely, it's going on for a few months. However, Jakarta and world community deny the presence of Laskar Jihad and the Islamic extremists, and that they have a close link with al-Qaeda.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: What about their links with the Indonesian military? Do they exist, still?

John Ondawame: The military feed these activities. As you would have heard the military has a close link with the Laskar Jihad, militia with West Papuan pro-Indonesians, and also [inaudible] some extent have close link with the extremists, Islamic extremists. So, what's happening in West Papua or in Bali is directly linked with military. As I said, in the Bali case, the military tend to be members of Laskar Jihad and train the [inaudible] people.

Hamish Fitzsimmons: There were reports that 10 villages were burnt by pro-Indonesian forces in April and May in the Central Highlands. What can you tell me about that?

John Ondawame: That was very much linked with these activities, as I said to you. The military, Laskar Jihad, and pro-Indonesian militias, who were referred to as West Papuans who were pro-West Papuan Indonesians – they are the one responsible for what happened in West Papua, particularly in the immediate area of the Baliem Valley.

Peter Cave: The West Papua Movement Spokesman, Dr John Ondawame, was speaking to Hamish Fitzsimmons.