Wednesday, March 29, 2006

Lock & Load

Muslim jihadists 'moving in'

Greg Roberts, Kiunga, Papua New Guinea
March 27, 2006

MUSLIM extremists from The Philippines and elsewhere are claimed to be setting up bases in Papua with the blessing of elements of the Indonesian military.Papua New Guinean Catholic bishop Giles Cote said the extremists were entering Papua to fight supporters of the separatist Free Papua Movement (OPM).

"Our information indicates that jihad militants are in Papua to do the dirty work of the police and military," said Bishop Cote, who diocese of Western Province borders Papua.

As anger in Jakarta mounted over Australia's decision to issue temporary protection visas to 42 of 43 Papuans who arrived in a boat on Cape York in January, Indonesia rejected Bishop Cote's claims. "It is not true that there are any religious militants backed by the TNI (Indonesian military) in Papua," said Dino Kusnadi, a spokesman for the Indonesian Embassy in Canberra.

Bishop Cote told The Australian in the PNG town of Kiunga that he believed the Muslim extremists came from the island of Mindanao in the southern Philippines, and Sulawesi and other islands in northern Indonesia. He doubted Indonesia's repeated assurances to Canberra that Papuan asylum-seekers would not be harmed if forced to return home.

The Catholic Church is assisting 6000 Papuans living in 17 refugee camps in PNG.
"These people are afraid to go back," Bishop Cote said. "They fear they will be jailed or worse. Our information suggests it is not safe for them to be returned."

Bishop Cote believed several thousand Indonesian troops had been relocated from Aceh - where Jakarta last year resolved a longstanding separatist rebellion - to Papua. "I am concerned that soon we will have another wave of refugees coming across the border for protection."

Free West Papua Campaign Australian organiser Nick Chesterfield said Bishop Cote's comments supported OPM claims that Muslim extremists were being armed by the TNI to form militias to crack down on the pro-independence movement.

He said separatists believed militias were responsible for a spate of killings in recent weeks around the town of Timika, which services the giant US-run Freeport copper and gold mine.

Mr Chesterfield said the bishop's comments also supported claims by the OPM that Indonesian troops were airlifted from the Lhoksamawe district of Aceh late last year to the Papuan towns of Enarotoli, Nabire and Manokwari.

However, Mr Kusnadi said no troops had been relocated, and Muslim extremists were not encouraged to establish themselves in Papua.

"I am not questioning the credibility of the bishop but perhaps you can question his sources," Mr Kusnadi said.

"There is no new military push in Papua. Indeed, there never has been a military push in Papua."

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in Canberra declined to comment on Bishop Cote's claims.