BY SIMON CALDWELL A RAMPAGIN(i Muslim Mob has murdered more than a dozen Christians in the worst outbreak of sectarian violence in Indonesia since a peace agreement was signed earlier this year.
Masked Islamic militants, some wearing military uniforms, swept into a Christian village in Ambon, the Moluccas, in a pre-dawn raid last Sunday. Six people were reported stabbed to death and at least another six died when their houses and a church were set ablaze.
The next day, calm was restored with heavily-armed Indonesian security forces patrolling the Moluccan capital. "Traffic is as usual, some businesses are open but there are more troops and police on the streets," one resident told Reuters news agency.
Local Christian leaders believe the Indonesian Islamic fundamentalist paramilitary group, LaskarJihact was behind the attack.
The gmup's 15,000 members are recruited from Muslim pans of the country, such as Java, site of the Indonesian capital, Jakarta, and are dispatched to the Christian areas, where they terrorise the local populations, vety often under the noses of the police and army.
The violence could mark the collapse of a deal between Christian and Muslim factions which was signed in February.
It erupted four days after the Christian separatist South Moluccas Republic group raised flags in Ambon on Thursday last week, the 52nd anniversary of a failed attempt to win independence.
A crowd of angry Muslims assembled on the streets of Ambon, and later the leader of Laskar Jihad, Jafar Umar Thalib, urged all Muslims there to launch a new war against the Christian community.
Thalib told thousands attending a prayer rally on Friday that they should ignore the peace agreement brought in to end fighting that has claimed 6,000 lives and displaced 750,000 people since January 1999.
Central to the deal, brokered by government officials, was the departure from the former Spice Islands of "outsiders who bring chaos" — a reference to the militants who have travelled in solely to attack Christians.
Partly fuelling the violence is also the quest of some Moluccan Christians, who make up more than half of the population of the islands, for a separate homeland.
Some Indonesians, having already seen Catholic East Timor break away in the summer of 1999, fear the breakup of their archipelago nation, Laskar Jihad has established a stronghold in Kehon Cengkih, a village in the hills above Ambon, and, acts:wiling to BBC Online, has stepped up its activities in Indonesia's Papua province, Formerly known as Irian Jaya, Papua is home to about a million Christians and animists, who have also agitated for independence. There is only a small Muslim minority.
Some American officials have voiced concerns that Laskar Jihad has links with al Qaeda, the terrorist network of Osama Bin Laden, the man who masterminded the September 11 attacks on the United States. Thalib, a 40-year-old veteran of the Afghan War, denies having links with Al Qaeda, although he met Bin Laden in Pakistan in 1987.
Laskar Jihad has a "domestic" rather than international agenda, tending to solely targetting Christians in conflict areas of Indonesia.