Refugees' return home `welcomed'

Lombok Barat, Indonesia - The West Lombok regency has welcomed the plan by Ahmadiyah refugees to return home, but says it hopes the sect's members will not choose to stick out again.

Regency spokesman Basirun Anwar said the administration would facilitate the return of the followers from the Transito building refugee center to their homes in Ketapang hamlet, Gegerung village, West Lombok, West Nusa Tenggara, on March 14.

"They are West Lombok residents, so we must help them," Basirun told The Jakarta Post on Sunday, adding the administration had received a copy of a letter from the refugees about the planned return.

Basirun also said the administration had met with local leaders in the village to discuss the matter.

Besides trying to mix with local residents, he said the leaders also urged Ahmadiyah followers to obey the recent joint ministerial decree (SKB) banning them from spreading their teachings.

Jauzi Djafar, West Nusa Tenggara chairman of the Indonesian Ahmadiyah Group, promised the group would abide by the SKB, but at the same time the group also urged the residents not to use violence against its members.

After three years in limbo at the refugee center, 68 Ahmadis have decided to risk returning home.

They are among 160 followers from 33 families who were driven from their homes by hard-line Muslims in 2006.

They decided to go back since their homes were still habitable, while the remaining 92 members of the sect chose to stay at the refugee center because their homes were completely destroyed.

The Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI) previously issued an edict declaring the Ahmadiyah heretical, mainly due to the sect's belief that its founder Mirza Ghulam Ahmad was a prophet.

Based on the edict, among other factors, the government than banned Ahmadiyah followers from spreading their teachings.

Human rights activists have deplored the use of violence against the sect's followers and criticized the MUI for issuing the edict, which was used as a reason by the hard-liners for the attacks.

Besides followers in West Nusa Tenggara, property owned by Ahmadis in West Java were also destroyed by Muslim hard-liners.

Basirun said the West Lombok administration would coordinate with the provincial administra-tion to organize the return of the refugees.

He said the return would be conducted in a formal ceremony that would be witnessed by local Muslim leaders.

"Ketapang residents hope the return can be conducted officially. So now we are coordinating with Mataram municipality, the provincial administration and the security authorities over the return home of the refugees," he said.

Provincial social services agency head Bachruddin said his office would provide 1 ton of rice to help out the refugees upon their return.

"Even when they do get back to their homes, they'll still need a little help first," he said.