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Tuesday, 4 December, 2001, 16:08 GMT
Afghan fighters 'seen' in Sulawesi
Afghans and other foreigners are engaged in battle alongside the Muslim militia fighting Christians in the Sulawesi region of Indonesia, according to a police source.

The BBC's Jakarta correspondent, Richard Galpin, said the policeman said he had witnessed Muslim fighters stopping civilians at roadblocks and executing those found to be members of the Christian community.

Indonesian Muslim praying in a mosque
Seven people have been killed in clashes between Muslims and Christians
Sectarian violence has escalated in the past few weeks as large numbers of Muslim extremists from other parts of the country have arrived in the province.

Indonesia is currently considering imposing a state of emergency on parts of Sulawesi island where thousands of people have fled their homes amid the religious violence.

At least seven people have been killed in the past week and hundreds of homes burnt down during clashes between armed Muslim groups and Christians.

Foreign fighters

Our correspondent says the policeman, a Christian, said he had personally interrogated a group of six foreigners - two Afghans, two Pakistanis and two Arabs - who were detained south of the town of Poso.

There is no sense of security left

Jimmy Tumbelaka
Catholic priest
He said the six claimed to be part of an humanitarian mission but, he said, the authorities remain deeply suspicious of their activities.

The policeman said he believed the foreigners were helping to train the Muslim fighters who have been attacking Christian villages around Poso in the past few weeks.

Government delegation

A high powered government delegation, including several top ministers and the national police chief has now arrived in Sulawesi, and intends to travel to Poso itself later on this week.

The government has also pledged to send in about 2,000 extra troops to the region in an attempt to halt the violence, however it remains unclear when they are to arrive.

Sectarian fighting

Christian groups have accused Muslim paramilitaries of the Laskar Jihad organisation of recently entering the area and stirring up violence.

Laskar Jihad has been fighting Christians in the Moluccas islands near Sulawesi since last year.

In October, the Java-based leader of the organisation said in a BBC interview that he planned to send hundreds of men to the Poso region.

And on Tuesday, a spokesman for the organisation told the BBC that the fighters were in the region to defend the Muslim community which had suffered considerable casualties since the conflicts began.

'Living in fear'

In the province of Sulawesi at least 1,000 people have been killed in religious fighting in the last two years. But until fresh violence broke out last week there had been a period of relative calm.

In the mainly Christian town of Tentena on Tuesday, people were reported to be getting their weapons ready for attacks by Muslims who have surrounded the village.

"People in Tentena and the surrounding areas are now living in fear of more violence," said a Catholic priest in the town, Jimmy Tumbelaka.

"There is no sense of security left."

In other parts of the region, Muslims have fled their homes fearing attacks by Christians, police said.

See also:

04 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sulawesi braced for more violence
03 Dec 01 | Asia-Pacific
More bloodshed feared in Sulawesi
23 Oct 01 | Asia-Pacific
Irian Jaya to get more autonomy
04 Jul 01 | Asia-Pacific
Sulawesi violence claims 18 lives
20 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Laskar Jihad?
26 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Troubled history of the Moluccas
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