President vows action on displaced Shia
Representatives put their case to Indonesian leader
Shia clerics at a recent protest in Jakarta
President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has assured 235 Shia forced from their villages in East Java last year that every effort will be made to try to allow them to return home as soon as possibe .
Five of their representatives finally met with the president late on Sunday night after having cycled hundreds of kilometers to Jakarta several weeks ago to meet him.
During the meeting the president said the government hopes they will be able to return to their villages on Madura Island by the end of July.
“The President promised that all displaced Shia could return to their home villages in Nangkernang and Blu’uran by the end of July,” said Ahmad Hidayat, the head of Indonesian Ahlul Bait, the umbrella organization representing Indonesia’s Shia.
Some 65 families were relocated to a nearby district when Sunni Muslims attacked their villages and burned their homes.
The Shia have since asked for protection and to be allowed to return to their villages. However local Sunnis have said they would only welcome them back if they become Sunni Muslims.
Their plight has drawn support from New York-based Human Rights Watch and the UN’s Human Rights Committee in Geneva. Both have urged the Indonesian government to protect religious minorities.
The government later announced that a reconciliation team led by Abdul A’la, the rector of Surabaya’s Sunan Ampel State Institute of Islamic Studies, and overseen by the president, would try to mediate a solution to the standoff.
At a press conference on Monday, Coordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto said the government had two options with regard to the displaced Shia.
These were either to let Shia refugees return to their villages, if there is no resistance whatsoever from local residents, or to relocate them to another area around Madura.
“We haven’t decided yet. It will have to be discussed further by the reconciliation team and the East Java government,” he said. “One thing for sure, we aim to find alternatives.”
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