Shia Muslims who fled their Sampang Regency villages amid sectarian strife with the Sunni majority are still waiting to go home, despite a three-month-old peace deal with the Sunnis and last month's visit to the area by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.
There has been no follow-up in efforts to return more than 200 Shia Muslims to Sampang from Sidoarjo, East Java, where they have stayed since being forced to leave Madura, advocates for the group say.
"We are still afraid, unless we get a green light from the government [guaranteeing] our security when we return," Sampang Shia leader Iklil Al Milal told Khabar Southeast Asia.
Shia Muslims are willing to make peace with Sampang Sunnis, but do not want their homeward return to be conditionally tied to forced conversions to Sunni Islam, he said.
"Is reconciliation still possible without pressuring us to convert our beliefs?" he added.
Thirty-four out of the regency's 235 displaced Shia Muslims did go home, but only after agreeing to sign a nine-point pledge to convert to Sunnism, Hertasning Ichlas, executive director of the Universalia Legal Aid Institute and an attorney representing the 235, told the Jakarta Post in an article published December 30th.
Religious Affairs Minister Suryadharma Ali denied the government was trying to force the Sampang Shia Muslims to join the Muslim majority, according to the Post.
Yudhoyono visited Sampang on December 4th, where he met with local clerics, community leaders, and members of a team overseeing Sunni-Shia reconciliation efforts.
Even with a signed September 23rd peace agreement, there can be no peace until Sunnis and Shiites learn to live side by side in a mutually respectful manner, said Abdullah A'la, reconciliation team leader.
"We need to embrace tolerance among both religious followers. Without tolerance, the reconciliation will fail. We need both sides to understand that the government will do its best to mediate the conflict between them," he told Khabar.
The Indonesian government will continue to support and encourage Shia Muslims to return home, said Co-ordinating Minister for Political, Legal and Security Affairs Djoko Suyanto, who accompanied the president on the Sampang trip.
"We hope the Shia can return to their homes safely and that there would not be any violence in the future. We should learn from both sides' experiences that the lack of tolerance can lead to riots," the minister told Khabar.
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