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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 10:41 GMT 11:41 UK
Jakarta targets Moluccas militants
Indonesian Muslims hold a rally in Jakarta 9 May 2002 in support of Laskar Jihad's Jafar Umar Thalib.
A Muslim leader is under arrest for inciting violence
Indonesia has said it will expel thousands of armed Muslim militants from the eastern Moluccas islands following the arrest of their leader six days ago.

Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the government will remove reputed troublemakers including the militant Laskar Jihad group and Christian separatists.

The Java-based Laskar Jihad has been accused of stirring up violence between Muslims and Christians in the Moluccas since its fighters arrived in the island chain in May 2000 vowing to wage "holy war".

Religious fighting had broken out in 1999, sparked by a minor traffic accident, but intensified in mid-2000.

The Laskar Jihad's leader Jafar Umar Thalib was arrested on 4 May for allegedly inciting violence which may have led to a massacre of Christian villagers last month.

It was the worst bloodshed since a peace deal was signed between Muslims and Christians in February.

Under the deal, both sides called on all unauthorised militia groups to surrender their weapons and agreed that groups from outside the province causing problems should leave.

However, Indonesian authorities admit both sides remain heavily armed, and the government in Jakarta has been criticised for not cracking down on groups like Laskar Jihad more promptly.

The security minister did not say when the Laskar Jihad would be forced to leave the region but said "the sooner the better."

Laskar Jihad said it would ignore any expulsion order, and remain in the province where it runs a school and a medical clinic alongside its paramilitary unit.

Muslim anger

The government also intends to dissolve the mainly Christian separatist group, the Maluku Sovereignty Front, Mr Yudhoyono said on Friday.

Hamzah Haz shortly after visiting Jafar Umar Thalib, 8 May 2002
Vice-President Hamzah Haz visited Mr Jafar in detention
Its leader Alex Manuputty was arrested and charged with treason last month for planning to raise a separatist flag.

The government move comes as Muslims have been protesting over the arrest of Jafar Umar Thalib.

Mr Jafar is accused of inciting violence ahead of last month's attack on a Christian village in which at least 12 people died, including women and a baby.

Mr Jafar had made a speech two days earlier in the islands' provincial capital Ambon in which he called on his followers to "prepare our bombs and ready our guns".

The militant leader appears to have the backing of influential Muslims including Vice-President Hamzah Haz, who visited him in his police cell on Wednesday.

Mr Haz has denied accusations that he was trying to interfere in the case and said he was visiting Mr Jafar as a "Muslim brother" and in his capacity as leader of Indonesia's largest Muslim political party, the United Development Party.



See also:

09 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Calls for Indonesian militant's release
09 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Profile: Jafar Umar Thalib
04 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Indonesia arrests top Islamic militant
28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Who are the Laskar Jihad?
28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Muslim mob attacks Indonesia Christians
22 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Moluccan separatist charged with treason
28 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Deadly foes embrace in Ambon
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Moluccan peace deal
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