JAKARTA, June 16: There is a growing risk of conflict between Muslims and Christians in Indonesia’s Papua, partly fuelled by migration and a growth in fundamentalism, International Crisis Group said in a report on Monday.

Twice last year in Papua, two provinces on the western half of New Guinea island, communal tensions almost erupted into violence linked to tensions over the building of a new mosque and an iron tower in the form of a Christmas tree, it said.

“The potential for communal conflict is high in Papua because both sides consider themselves aggrieved,” said Sidney Jones, a senior adviser for the International Crisis Group.

Indigenous Christians feel threatened by ongoing Muslim migration from other parts of Indonesia, while Muslims are concerned about facing discrimination or even expulsion, it said.

The prospect of conflict has also been fanned by religious tensions in other parts of Indonesia such as the Maluku islands, which have suffered from fighting between Christians and Muslims.

The report noted an influx of more exclusivist groups in both communities, including hard-line Islamic group Hizbut Tahrir and, on the Christian side, evangelical churches such as Jemaah Jalan Suci (Congregation of the Holy Way).

Indonesia is predominantly Muslim but some areas, particularly in the east including Papua, have Christian majorities.

The number of followers of Islam in Papua has been growing, with the percentage of Muslims put at 23.1 per cent in 2004, up from 6.5 per cent in 1975, according to data cited in the report.

The report said that many church leaders believed, however, that the number of migrants, many of them Muslim, was under-reported.

“The communal divide is overlain by a political one: many Christian Papuans believe autonomy has not gone nearly far enough, while many Muslim migrants see it as a disaster and are fervent supporters of centralised rule from Jakarta,” it said.

The report said communal tensions were most acute along Papua’s west coast and it highlighted problems last year in Manokwari, where Christians mobilised to prevent a mosque and Islamic centre being built in an area where Christianity was first brought to Papua by German missionaries in 1855.—Reuters

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