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Indonesian minister assesses conflict-torn Sulawesi

Yudhoyono plans to deploy two battalions to restore order
Yudhoyono plans to deploy two battalions to restore order  

By CNN's Atika Shubert in Jakarta

JAKARTA, Indonesia (CNN) -- Indonesian Chief Security Minister, Bambang Yudhoyono, toured Central Sulawesi Wednesday to make an assessment of the conflict between Christians and Muslims in the area that has killed at least seven people and made thousands homeless in the last week.

However, his visit was marred by tensions among community leaders.

Religious leaders from the mainly Christian town of Tentena refused to go to the Muslim-controlled district capital of Poso to meet with Minister Yudhoyono.

"Last night a church - one of only 2 remaining churches in Poso - was burned down just 100 meters from where the police and government offices are," Reverend Arnold Tobondo told CNN from his offices in Tentena.

"How could we go there and be expected to feel safe?" he said.

"Instead, a helicopter is taking the minister around to see the devastation caused by these terrorist attacks. So that he can see the real facts, the real destruction."

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During his meetings with community leaders and government officials, Minister Yudhoyono discussed a 6-month plan to restore security to the area involving the deployment of 2 battalions of security forces.

According to the minister, the first 2 months will be used to quell violence while the remaining 4 months will monitor reconciliation between the two sides.

Yudhoyono also promised to disarm rival militias and deport recruits brought from outside the area to fight.

Laskar Jihad

Religious violence in Poso has simmered for more than a year, killing hundreds. The violence follows a similar conflict in the neighboring Maluku islands that has killed thousands of people.

After a particularly brutal Christian militia attack last year, 2 military battalions were called in to restore order.

Last week, however, violence flared again. This time, Christian groups blame the arrival of Indonesia's largest Muslim militant group, the Laskar Jihad or Jihad Army.

The group doesn't deny the charge.

Laskar Jihad has already trained and sent hundreds to fight in the Maluku islands. They now openly campaign to send volunteers to fight in Poso.

The Laskar Jihad website offers a three page explanation for their Poso campaign as well as a list of their "victories" in the area.

"The oppression of Muslims is what is spurring Laskar Jihad to descend into Poso's conflict," the explanation reads. "Laskar Jihad openly declares a jihad."

"Muslims must know that the best solution to resolving the Poso conflict is only through jihad."

'Al-Qaeda Links'

Christian groups accuse Laskar Jihad of being a terrorist organization that receives training and funding from Osama bin Laden's Al-Qaeda group.

Church leaders say the group is carrying out a plan to "cleanse" all Christians from the Poso area in time for the Muslim holiday of Idul Fitri on December 16 marking the end of Ramadan.

U.S. officials have alluded to the possibility of Al-Qaeda cells in Indonesia but Indonesian officials say that no concrete evidence has been found.

Information from suspected Al-Qaeda suspects on trial in Spain last month indicated the existence of a terrorist training camp in Indonesia.

Police in Indonesia have denied any evidence of the camp.

Laskar Jihad founders admit to meeting with Al-Qaeda members but deny receiving any training or funding from the terrorist group.


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