Christian Village Suffers Midnight Attack in Indonesia

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Violence Left Two Dead, Six Missing, and 38 Houses Destroyed
by Geoff Stamp

LONDON, October 14 (Compass) -- Indonesian Christians who have lived in the village of Old Beteleme (Bethlehem), Central Sulawesi, since being displaced by a three-year wave of religious violence suffered a night-time attack Friday that left two people dead, six missing and 38 houses destroyed.

Shortly after midnight on October 11, villagers heard disturbing sounds in the street as the assailants in all-white attire cried, “Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar!” as they attacked the quiet village.

One resident, Mrs. Wedlrina Mbae, a 55-year-old teacher, reportedly heard a knock at her door and went to see if anyone was in trouble. She was met with a hail of bullets and died within a few minutes.

Another Christian villager, Oster Tarioko, 40, died on the way to the hospital after suffering gunshot wounds. A third, Mr. Deki Lingkua, 20, is critically ill with stab wounds and several more are hospitalized. The right arm of Mr. L. Malo, 46, was reportedly shattered by gunshot.

Other villagers fled into the nearby jungle and watched helplessly as 38 of their houses were looted, set on fire and burned to the ground. Three cars, seven motorcycles and an Assembly of God church were also burned.

A group of volunteers who trekked to the village from Tentena are still searching the jungle for six missing people.

The attack resembled violence that Indonesian Christians suffered in Poso, the center of past troubles with Muslim extremists. Witnesses said the attack lasted precisely one hour, after which the assailants disappeared into the jungle.

Some villagers claimed that young people hardly older than children were among the attackers. Their role was to set the houses alight.

For its Christian residents, Old Beteleme offered an opportunity to start again after their crops, livestock and belongings were either stolen or destroyed in previous violence. Located far from Poso and nearer to the predominantly Christian town of Tentena, Old Beteleme seemed safe. Even the name (Bethlehem) was comforting.

However, since the signing of the Malino agreement between Christians and Muslims on December 21, 2001, Compass has learned that the Indonesian government has ignored many violations of the agreement. Almost all the religiously motivated aggression has been directed against Christians.

“More than 99 percent of the victims of this senseless violence since the Malino agreement have been Christians,” Mona Saroinsong, coordinator of the Protestant Church Crisis Center in Manado, North Sulawesi, wrote in an email report over the weekend. “To date, none of the aggressors have been found or brought to trial. No one knows who they are or why they are doing it.”

As special commemorative services were being held to remember those who died in the Bali nightclub bombing a year ago, Christians were again paying the price of living in a region dominated by Muslim officials unwilling to protect them. Many suspect these random attacks could be sanctioned by people in positions of authority.

“As with previous attacks, there is a pattern,” Saroinsong said. “The attacks are always at night and are well organized. The attackers operate in several small groups each with a specific task and area to cover, and they wear black masks to avoid being identified.

“They use automatic weapons that can only be legally held by the armed forces. They target a village far away from any source of help. Tentena (the nearest major city) is 88 miles from Old Beteleme. The roads are so bad it can take up to eight hours to reach Old Beteleme from the nearest town.

“A further similarity with previous attacks is that the head of the police was occupied elsewhere,” Saroinsong added.

She pointed out that help did not reach the villagers until 3 a.m. -- too late to save the burning houses and aggravating the condition of the wounded.

While the eyes of Western nations are turned toward Bali because foreign tourists died there in last year’s tragic bombing, Saroinsong asks Christians throughout the world to be aware that believers of Central Sulawesi are being killed, maimed and threatened because some people believe there is no place for them in a Muslim Indonesia.

“We ask for your prayers and for renewed pressure from abroad on the Indonesian government to put an end to these violent attacks,” Saroinsong said.