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Mar 1 2005
Religious Aid Groups Proselytizing in Tsunami Damaged Areas

AP via Yahoo! News Asia

Hardline Islamic groups to patrol refugee camps to prevent proselytizing in Aceh

A hardline Muslim group known for raiding Western nightclubs said Tuesday it has formed a team to confront foreign aid workers suspected of proselytizing in tsunami survivor camps in devastated Aceh.

"We have received reports of these incidents, and we will be forced to confront the aid workers," said Haziri Arahab, the secretary of the radical Islamic Defenders' Front, or FPI.

"They go to camps, drawing children to their trucks laden with food and clothes and say: 'Our God has given these to you,'" he said.

Arahab said the 50-member team was formed with other Muslim groups.

Aid groups have flooded into Aceh following the Dec. 26 tsunami that leveled parts of the province and killed more than 124,000 people. Among the relief organizations have been Muslim and Christian groups, both of which have mixed the giving of relief supplies with overt religious messages.

For decades, most U.S. faith-based relief agencies have followed a pact: access to government funds in exchange for promises not to seek converts or upset local customs. But smaller evangelical groups in Aceh said they would find it hard to separate their religious message from relief operations.

Aceh Governor Azwar Abubakar, however, told The Associated Press Tuesday he hadn't received any reports of overt proselytizing, and said no foreigners have been kicked out.

FPI admitted it couldn't name specific incidents or aid groups guilty of proselytizing, but said it will do everything it can to protect its Muslim brothers. Arahab said evidence was already presented to Welfare Minister Alwi Shihab.

"We welcome all non-Muslims involved in humanitarian work here in Aceh, but please don't try to convert our brethren," Arahab said.

FPI is best known in Indonesia for launching raids on Western style pubs and discos in Jakarta that they said violated Islamic principles during the holy month of Ramadan. The group also led protests outside the U.S. Embassy against the U.S.-led wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

It joined other hardline Islamic groups to cleanup the hard-hit city of Banda Aceh after the tsunami struck Aceh province. Despite concerns raised by American officials, the groups have caused no problems.

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