Indonesian Catholic Church compound under jihad militant attack

Jihad militants and security forces have been fighting gun battles as the militants seek to control a Catholic diocesan training compound in Ambon city.

The complex, which is in the Karang Panjang area of the city in the Moluccas Islands, has been fought over in the past due to its position on a hill overlooking several Christian neighbourhoods.

The conflict has raged for the last week over the Catholic complex, as well as a disabled children's compound, according to Father Böhm of the Catholic Crisis Centre, a human rights information centre.

The strategically located Gonzalo Veloso compound overlooks several Christian neighbourhoods such as Belakang Soya and Batumeja and also allows easy access to surrounding Christian villages such as Soya.

The aims of the attack are reported to be to use the complex as a Jihad training centre and to use the strategic location of the compound to attack the surrounding Christian neighbourhoods.

Father Böhm added that if the complex fell into the hands of the militants, they would not only be able to attack the Christian areas but also to cut off the road to Soya village, the only escape route available for the Christians living in surrounding areas.

The Laskar Jihad's current training centre is situated close to the scene of the conflict.

Baroness Cox, CSW's President and a deputy speaker of the House of Lords, visited the scene of the attack in July 2001. She said: "We understand that the President Megawati and the Indonesian government are supportive of religious freedom and tolerance in Indonesia and are facing a sensitive internal situation.

"However, reconciliation efforts in the Moluccas have little chance of success if Laskar Jihad is allowed to continue its campaign of provoking violence between the Christian and Muslim communities. Delegations of both Muslims and Christians have approached the authorities to ask for their removal as a precondition to reconciliation."

In response to the renewed upsurge of violence, which flared up again at the beginning of November, Christians in Ambon have brought the city to a near standstill with a three-day prayer vigil, which began on November 20.

The prayer vigil, called Hari Perkabungan, meaning Days of Mourning, was organized in response to the escalating violence.

Thousands of people took part in the events, which included prayer gatherings at public offices, homes and churches.

Although people working in the hospital and security sectors were on duty, most other public and private offices were temporarily shut.

Leo Lohy, Deputy Chairman of the Maluku Protestant Church Synod told The Jakarta Post: "These prayers are a display of concern about all the violence that has taken place during a relatively calm period in Maluku. In this way we call on all people to assess themselves and completely put their fate in God's hands."

The Christian village of Waimulang in Buru was attacked on November 1 by Jihad militants who killed four villagers. More than a thousand residents and several hundred refugees managed to flee to the jungle, but their village was razed to the ground.

Since then, there have been a number of bombings and armed attacks on Ambon, including the bombing of an electrical appliance store on November 12, which left two people dead and about 20 wounded.

The recent violence is widely believed to the work of the militant Jihad organization, Laskar Jihad, which has about 3,000 militants in the Moluccas, including a number of foreign militia.

Jafar Umar Thalib, the leader of the organization, which is linked with international Jihad movements, visited the Moluccas region at the end of October.

He made a number of inflammatory speeches and called for the continuation of the violence against Christian communities, reportedly stating that the "war would not be over until Muslims could celebrate Idul Fitr [the feast at the end of Ramadan] in Kudamati, Passo, Saparua and other Christian locations". Since then, the violence has steadily escalated.