Christians Surrounded in Central Indonesia

Sunday, August 4, 2002

by Alex Buchan

LONDON (Compass) -- A "second Ambon" is brewing in Indonesia according to Christian leaders as a 3,000-strong Muslim jihad force closes in on 28,000 Christians in Tentena, Central Sulawesi. Ambon refers to an area in eastern Indonesia where thousands have died in Muslim-Christian conflicts.

"If we do not get help soon, thousands of Christians will cease to exist by year's end," said a pastor from the area.

Tentena is a town of 5,000 people normally, but is swollen by Christians fleeing the menace of the jihad force in the entire Poso district.

More than 12 million people live on Sulawesi, a large spidery-shaped island in the middle of the archipelago that makes up Indonesia, Asia's third largest country. The island is 70 percent Muslim with a large -- mainly Protestant -- Christian minority of around 25 percent.

In April 2000, sporadic fighting between Christians and Muslims broke out in the central part of the island. Since June of this year, a strike force of at least 2,000 so-called "jihad warriors" have "cleansed" the town of Poso and the surrounding district of Christians.

According to a Jakarta-based expert, "The military strategy of the jihad force is to cut off communication between the Toraja Christians living in the northern part of the neighboring South Sulawesi province and the Christians in North Sulawesi. Once that is achieved, they plan to concentrate on attacking the Christian stronghold of northern Sulawesi."

Christians in the area have fled to Tentena, the only Christian town left. Some Christians have formed a 2,000-member militia, called the "Red Force," to fight off the Muslim extremists.

"We cannot count on government forces to protect us as we have seen time and again the police especially have joined the jihad forces," said a Tentena pastor.

Pastors from the area have requested international help to avoid a bloodbath.

A recent atrocity involved a police elite force attacking a Christian village elder and his family on June 27, according to a July 9 Open Doors news release. A women neighbor, five months pregnant, was killed in the attack. When Christians went to the local police station to complain, all the police had fled.

In another incident in June also reported by Open Doors, a Christian doctor had his ears cut off by Muslim vigilantes. Named Dr. Benny, he was on a tour of duty when his car was stopped by a group of people in Kayamaia, just outside Poso city. He was forced out of his car to answer questions. When they realized he was a Christian, they beat him up and cut off both his ears. A passerby who was a former patient intervened on his behalf, pleading that he was a good man who selflessly served the community. The crowd let Dr. Benny go, and with his head pouring blood and in excruciating pain, he tried to find his ears, but he could find only one. He is now recovering in a hospital in Palu.

But ironically in Palu, the jihad force has set up a recruiting office, urging young Muslims to come forward and be trained for combat in the Poso district. Thus far, the government has taken no action against the recruitment drive.

In a separate incident, a pastor's wife had a leg amputated after sustaining injuries from a bomb thrown by a man from a motorcycle in the parking lot of Christ Alpha Omega Tabernacle Bethel Church in Semarang, central Java. Susana Hilda Riyanti, 50, the wife of church pastor Timotius Subekti, had just driven into the parking lot on Tuesday, July 31, when the attack took place.

Protestant, Catholic, Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist leaders all met August 1 at the Java Christian Church offices in Semarang and issued a statement urging their communities to stay calm and not be provoked into violence by the bombing.

All these incidents took place against a backdrop of great political drama in Jakarta, as the country's first democratically-elected president since the Suharto era, Abdurrahman Wahid, was removed from office and replaced by 54-year-old Megawati Sukarnoputri, daughter of Indonesia's founding leader, Sukarno.

Sworn in on July 23, the "Far Eastern Economic Review" labeled her a "puppet president" in their August 2 issue, expressing fears that she will represent rather than confront establishment and military factions that prospered under former president Suharto.

More worrying for Christians is her need to court Muslim parties. She named Mr. Haz, the leader of a conservative Muslim party, as her vice president. It is not known whether Haz favors the imposition of Islamic sharia law in Indonesia -- a cherished goal among Muslim extremists.

Copyright 2001, Compass News Direct. Used with Permission.