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Monday, 13 May, 2002, 11:35 GMT 12:35 UK
Indonesian deputy steps into Moluccas row
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
Days after the Indonesian Government vowed to expel Muslim militants from the Moluccas islands, the country's vice-president has said Christian separatists should first disband.

Hamzah Haz shortly after visiting Jafar Umar Thalib, 8 May 2002
Vice-President Hamzah Haz is a prominent Muslim
Hamzah Haz, who leads Indonesia's largest Muslim party, was speaking after opening a national meeting of Laskar Jihad, a paramilitary group accused of fuelling religious violence in the eastern island chain.

Last week, Mr Haz was criticised for visiting the detained Laskar Jihad leader Jafar Umar Thalib who is accused of inciting violence which may have led to a massacre of Christian villagers last month.

Correspondents say Mr Haz's public show of support for Laskar Jihad is exposing rifts inside the government over how to treat the group.

On Friday, Security Minister Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said he had ordered the removal of the Java-based Laskar Jihad and the disbanding of the mainly Christian separatist group, the Maluku Sovereignty Front (FKM), to try to save a shaky peace deal.

Religious violence

Muslims and Christians signed a peace deal in February in which they called on militia groups to surrender their weapons. But the deal has been undermined by a series of violent incidents, most notably the attack last month in which at least 12 Christian villagers were killed.

Mr Haz on Monday said he agreed with the government's expulsion order on Laskar Jihad, but said the Christian separatists should disband first.

"FKM first, and then after that there should be no threats against the people and Muslims should feel protected, and Laskar Jihad should do the same way," he said.

The FKM gained prominence last month when its leader Alex Manuputty was arrested and charged with treason for planning to raise a separatist flag.

Christians and Muslims in the Moluccas used to live peacefully. But in January 1999 violence erupted between the two communities, sparked by a minor traffic accident in the main city of Ambon.

The violence intensified in mid-2000, with the arrival of the Laskar Jihad. The group is still the biggest obstacle to lasting peace, according to analysts.

Some analysts link the group to Osama Bin Laden's al-Qaeda network, but both Laskar Jihad and the Indonesian authorities deny this.



See also:

10 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Jakarta targets Moluccas militants
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 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Deadly foes embrace in Ambon
12 Feb 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Moluccan peace deal
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