Indonesian Islamic groups told to remain calm

The Jakarta Police held a discussion with Islamic groups on Tuesday in a bid to prevent a spread of violence after a riot broke out during Idul Fitri prayers in Tolikara, Papua.

During the meeting, which was also attended by Jakarta Military Commander Maj. Gen. Agus Sutomo and representatives from the Jakarta administration, police disclosed the chronology of the Tolikara conflict, as well as its context, to the leaders of the Islamic groups. Police also asked them to correct any inaccurate stories that could trigger emotional reactions in the public, particularly in the Muslim community.

"As the organisations have a large number of members, we hope the religious leaders can give comprehensive explanations of what exactly happened in Tolikara, so we can see the conflict from the same perspective," Jakarta Police chief Insp. Gen Tito Karnavian said after the meeting.

He said he was afraid the Islamic groups would take a misstep in responding to the sensitive issue if they failed to understand the real story.

On the first day of Idul Fitri on Friday, Muslims who were performing Idul Fitri prayers in the Karubaga sub-district, Tolikara, faced protests by a number of people who were allegedly members of the Evangelical Church in Indonesia (GIDI) who demanded the volume of the loudspeakers be turned down as the sound was interfering with a Christian ceremony being conducted nearby. Stones were reportedly thrown by one side or the other.

Following the arrival of the police a number of warning shots were fired and the situation deteriorated into a riot. A number of kiosks and houses, as well as a mushala (a small mosque), were burned down. One victim was killed and 11 others were reportedly injured by gunfire. More than a hundred people were evacuated to several tents set up at the Karubaga Military Headquarters on Saturday as their houses were destroyed in the fire.

Tito, a former Papua Police chief, said the conflict was not related to a religious dispute as the Papuans are tolerant toward religions. Instead, he associated the incident with separatist groups wanting Papua's independence from Indonesia.

"As we all know, some groups seek Papua's independence from Indonesia. One of their tactics is setting up a religious conflict. It has always been like that," Tito said.

He said besides keeping an eye on some hardline groups, the Jakarta Police and the National Police have also stationed police officers in a number of churches in Greater Jakarta to ensure security.

"We have also mobilized special teams from the Jakarta Police and National Police who work 24 hours to search for groups taking advantage of this conflict," he said. He also urged Papuan students in the city to calm down.

The head of the Islam Reformist Movement (Garis), Andang Nurmansyah, said that Garis would tell its members about the motives behind the conflict as explained by the police.

"Jakarta is, in fact, the barometer of national security. As an attempt to ensure its stability, we will help the police by revealing the true story of the Tolikara conflict to our members," he said.

Meanwhile, Islam Defenders Front (FPI) central executive board head Ahmad Sobri Lubis said the discussion had given him a broader view of the Tolikara conflict and he promised that his group would approach the issue wisely.

He also urged the police to find the perpetrators behind the riot.

"We will help the police by calming our members down. However, if there is no law enforcement, we definitely will do jihad [go to Papua to find the people behind the conflict]," Ahmad said.

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