Fanatics ‘heading for Sulawesi’

Muslim leader warns of religious and ethnic riots.

THE leader of Indonesia’s largest Muslim organisation said yesterday that Muslim fanatics and military elements were going in large numbers into the North Sulawesi Christian-dominated city of Manado.

Predicting another bout of religious and ethnic conflagration, Mr Abdurrahman Wahid of the 30-million-strong Nadhlatul Ulama, warned that the country was sliding into even greater chaos.

“The political elite are fighting amongst themselves to satisfy their own ambitions,” he told The Straits Times in an interview.

“The situation is in turmoil. People are killing people with increasing frequency and that is the clearest sign yet of a society tearing apart. If this continues, we face a social revolution.”

Senior military sources, sharing Mr Wahid’s bleak assessment, added that the situation was made worse because the 500,000-strong military did not have sufficient resources to deal with sporadic violence breaking out throughout the sprawling archipelago.

“We are so stretched and we have an image problem,” said an army general. “We are damned if we take action and damned if we don’t. That only encourages criminals to go on the offensive.”

While Indonesia appears calm, sporadic rioting has rocked the country in recent weeks. This has caused concern that the worst is yet to come as the general election looms next June.

In the eastern Indonesian town of Kupang in Nusa Tenggara, tensions flared anew on Sunday amid rumours of an impending repeat of the massive riots that rocked the area on Nov 30.

The violence then left at least four mosques burned and several buildings damaged. It came as Christian students were commemorating the 13 people killed in riots in Jakarta last month. Other towns are also feeling the brunt of such violence, many taking on strong religious overtones.

In the Ngabang district of West Kalimantan, three mosques were torched last week. In the South Sulawesi capital of Ujung Pandang, Muslim mobs burnt down a church, forcing Christians to flee the province.

Mr Wahid said he had obtained information from church leaders over the weekend that “outside elements” were now making their way to Manado where at least 70 per cent of the population are Christians.

He said many of them were clearly outsiders as they did not speak the local dialect and were physically different from the locals. “We will know in one to two weeks’ time whether Manado will explode because that is how long it will take for them to organise a riot.”

He declined to identify who was behind the problems, but said they “revolved around Muslim fanatics and military elements”. “They want to destabilise the country to achieve their own short-term political goals.”

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