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Sulawesi Muslims 'preparing to attack'

The United Nations said a refugee crisis might erupt in Indonesia due to religious conflicts  

JAKARTA, Indonesia -- The United Nations has warned that heavily armed Muslim fighters are preparing to attack more than 60,000 Christian villagers on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi.

Fierce clashes between the religious groups are giving rise to fears of widespread religious violence in the area.

Both sides are prepared to fight, the United Nations said after sending a team to Sulawesi, and there were about 7,000 Muslim guerillas in the region.

On Monday, police shot to death a rioter and wounded five others after a Muslim mob staged an attack on a church in Poso, the Associated Press reported.

More than 1,000 people have been killed on the island, about 1,000 miles northeast of Jakarta, in the past two years with ethnic fighting flaring up in the last few weeks.

At least eight people have been killed in the past week but there are concerns the death toll could escalate rapidly if the violence is not contained.

Many villagers were fleeing the town of Tentena or making preparations for the onslaught from Muslim militiamen who are believed to be members of the extremist Laskar Jihad group.

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A report from the Australian Broadcasting Corp. said that Laskar Jihad members manned road blocks near the predominantly Christian town of Tentena and were flying flags depicting Osama bin Laden as their leader.

The group has been accused of invoking the latest violence in Sulawesi and some of its commanders are believed to have received training in Afghanistan.

The Indonesian government is preparing to send in thousands of troops in an effort to quell the violence and stabilize the area.

Thousands of Muslims and Christians have fled several towns and sought refuge in police stations, churches and military barracks, local news reports said.

Asmara Nababan, a member of the government's National Human Rights Commission, said the situation in central Sulawesi was quickly deteriorating and that violence was continuing despite patrols by soldiers.

"The situation is critical," Nababan told the Associated Press news agency. "We are afraid that there is going to be a lot of violence."

Nababan said Tentena was surrounded by Muslim fighters, who were threatening to attack any time.

Nababan said three human rights investigators were dispatched to the region on Monday to investigate why the "police and military seemed unable to stop the conflict."

Earlier this year in the province of Central Kalimantan, around 500 people were killed and tens of thousands displaced after ethnic clashes between native Dayaks and Madurese.


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