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Muslim Infiltrators 'Training Papua Militia'

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By Lindsay Murdoch (Sydney Morning Herald Correspondent, Jakarta)

A militant Muslim group blamed for killing hundreds of Christians in the Maluku islands has infiltrated the Indonesian province of Papua, where its fighters are training pro-Jakarta militia, human rights activists claim.

The group, Laskar Jihad, had sent more than 100 of its armed fighters into the Papua district of Fak Fak, and was operating military training camps there, said a spokesman for the human rights group ELSHAM, based in the Papuan capital, Jayapura.

Indonesian authorities in Fak Fak were backing the training that Laskar Jihad fighters had been giving members of the East Merah Putih (Red and White) militia, the group said.

ELSHAM said yesterday that one oF its activists who worked for the Government in Fak Fak and his family had been repeatedly threatened with death after he told police about a Laskar Jihad training camp that police raided last month. Explosives, hand-made weapons and poisonous arrows had been confiscated, ELSHAM said.

A Papuan police spokesman in Jayapura confirmed yesterday that two or three people would appear in court on charges relating to the raid.

Laskar Jihad, originally based in Java, is Indonesia's largest and most violent Muslim group. It has sent hundreds, if not thousands, of fighters to the Malukus over the past two years to join a jihad against Christians.

More than 5000 people have been killed in the conflict.

United States intelligence officials have been quoted as saying Laskar Jihad is linked to Osama bin Laden's al-Qaeda terrorists. The Afghanistan-trained Laskar Jihad leader, Jafar Umar Thalib, denies any link with al-Qaeda. He says that last year he turned down an offer of financial backing and an alliance from a bin Laden aide.

A spokesman for Laskar Jihad in Jakarta yesterday denied the group had a presence in Fak Fak.

The Papuan police spokesman said that several weeks ago a man who had arrived in the town of Sorong from the Malukus had been arrested carrying 10 bombs. Police have not linked the man to the Laskar Jihad.

Indonesia is coming under increasing pressure to crack down on militant Muslim groups because US and Asian diplomats say there is growing evidence of al-Qaeda cells active in the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia. Intelligence officials in Singapore say the leadership of Jemaah Islamiah, a group accused of targeting US interests and the Australian embassy in Singapore, is based in the Indonesian city of Solo.

But Indonesian police have said they lack the evidence to charge the outspoken Jemaah Islamiah leader, Abu Bakar Bashir.

Meanwhile, the commander of Indonesia's Kopassus special forces, Major-General Amirul Isnaeni, has challenged police statements that evidence points to the involvement of Kopassus soldiers in the assassination of Papua's flamboyant independence leader, Theys Eluay.

Mr Eluay was found dead in his car on November 11 after attending a Kopassus function in Jayapura.


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