The humanitarian situation in Indonesia's embattled Maluku islands is worsening as a result of the influx of Islamic Jihad or holy war warriors aided by rogue external elements, a rights group said Monday.
"Following the arrival of significant numbers of Laskar Jihad warriors in April the conflict has escalated very seriously," said Baroness Caroline Cox, president of the British-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
"Evidence suggests that Laskar Jihad receives assistance from elements in the government and the armed forces as well as from international Islamist movements," Cox told reporters in Hong Kong.
The Maluku islands, previously known as the Spice Islands, have been torn apart by almost two years of Muslim-Christian conflict, leaving more than 4,000 people of both faiths dead and a trail of destruction.
In June, Jakarta imposed a state of civil emergency in the Malukus and the North Malukus but it has so far failed to rein in the violence.
"The situation is one of great tragedy, great tension and great complexity."
"They (the Laskar Jihad) have threatened that 'there will be no church bells ringing in Ambon (the provincial capital) by Christmas,'" Cox said, adding that some 400 Jihad warriors arrived in the islands on November 11 and more were expected to achieve their stated goal.
The Jihad warriors arrived on a commercial ferry despite President Abdurrahman Wahid's public commitment to preventing Islamic fighters from travelling to the islands, she said.
"The Indonesian government must remove the Laskar Jihad from the islands and stop any further access to them," Cox stressed.
According to government officials, up to 2000 warriors remain in the islands, she added.
Some 700 Christians on Seram Island from Hatu and Hatumete villages have received an ultimatum from the militants to convert to Islam by the end of the November or face being killed, Cox said.
And, in a letter written on September 3 and smuggled out by a child travelling to Sulawesi, church leaders report that 1,150 children have been forcibly circumcised by Islamic militants, said Cox, who traveled to the islands earlier this year.
As a result of the fear and violence that the Islamic militants have stirred up, over 350,000 people -- both Christian and Muslim -- have been forced to flee into the mountains and jungle.
"They have no permanent shelter, inadequate food and virtually no medical supplies. Their conditions really are dire and acute," Cox said.
Allegations of partisanship have also inflamed the situation in the world's most populous Muslim country.
"There have been many consistent and credible reports that the Indonesian military has not been impartial," Cox said, adding she had seen video footage of soldiers donning Jihad uniforms and fighting alongside them against Christians.
She charged some sections of the Indonesian media of deliberately misreporting the conflict, further polarizing the two communities who had previously lived in relative harmony.
While acknowledging that Muslims and Mosques had been attacked by Christian fighters, Cox said more than 75 percent of victims had been Christian, but the media at times had deliberately censored reports on violence against Christians and had in some cases claimed the victims were Muslims -- HONG KONG (AFP)
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