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Religious tensions rise in Papua -

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Religious tensions rise in Papua

The World Today - Tuesday, 17 June , 2008 12:38:00

Reporter: Geoff Thompson

EMMA ALBERICI: There are warnings this morning that soaring tensions between Christians and Muslims
in the Indonesian Province of Papua could soon erupt into conflict.

In a new report, the International Crisis Group has warned that there is a widely held perception
among Christians in Papua that Jakarta is deliberately implementing a policy of Islamisation.

The group warns that an outbreak of violence between hardline Muslim groups and exclusivist
Christians could draw in militants from Java, as Indonesia correspondent Geoff Thompson reports
from Jakarta.

GEOFF THOMPSON: When visiting Jakarta last week Australia's Prime Minister made much of the
inter-faith dialogue he intended to develop with Indonesia before exporting it to the world.

Kevin Rudd.

KEVIN RUDD: There is nothing inevitable about the clash of civilisation, that in fact there are
huge commonalities between which we need to build on. And interface dialogue between our countries
and more broadly across the globe as an area where our two countries will have further to say in
the months ahead.

GEOFF THOMPSON: Well according to new report from the International Crisis Group there may be
nowhere in the region so close to Australia and in need of imminent inter-faith dialogue than the
Indonesian provinces of Papua and West Papua.

The International Crisis Group's Jakarta-based senior adviser, Sidney Jones.

SIDNEY JONES: Communal tensions between Muslims and Christians is one aspect of the problem in
Papua that very few people are paying attention to and we think that the issue of communal tension
deserves more attention because if it's not managed affectively, either we can see an eruption of
localised conflict, or we can see greater support, for example, separatism on the part of
particularly Indigenous Christians who feel that their concerns are not being addressed.

GEOFF THOMPSON: About 80 per cent of the Muslims in Papua have migrated there from elsewhere in
Indonesia, leading to widespread belief among indigenous Christians that Jakarta supports a policy
of Islamising the provinces.

Several incidents last year came to close violence when plans to build a grand mosque were forced
to be abandoned as were plans by Christians to build an iron tower Christmas tree topped with a
Star of David.

An recent influx of members of extreme or exclusivist Muslim and Christian groups is exacerbating
tensions and it would only take the deaths of few Muslims to encourage hardline Muslim militants to
flock from Java to Papua, says Sidney Jones.

SIDNEY JONES: I think there's just not an awareness at all of the fact that hardline groups from
both communities, both Christian and Islam, are present now in Papua. There's just, as far as I can
tell, no one understanding and no awareness of the fact that there is a problem. I don't think
we've got a situation at the moment where we're going to see lots of violence erupt, but I think
this is a warning that the tensions are there and need to be eased.

GEOFF THOMPSON: The report says the percentage of Muslims in Papua has increased almost fourfold in
the past 30 years.

EMMA ALBERICI: Indonesia correspondent Geoff Thompson there.