By Stefan J. Bos at BosNewsLife News Center with BosNewsLife South East Asia Correspondent Santosh Digal reporting from the region
PALU/JAKARTA (BosNewsLife) -- Leaders of Indonesia's embattled Christian minority urged authorities Tuesday, October 17, to catch the killers of a Protestant pastor, whose church defended three Catholics before they were executed last month for alleged involvement in violence against Muslims.
Reverend Irianto Kongkoli, 40, was shot in the head by a masked gunman when he was buying ceramic tiles with his wife on Monday, October 16, at a shop in Palu, the capital of the tense province of Central Sulawesi about 1,650 km (1,030 miles) northeast of Jakarta, Christians and police investigators said.
He was rushed to a local hospital but doctors were unable to save his life, BosNewsLife learned. Central Sulawesi Police Chief, Badrudin Haiti, reportedly said the shooter, who used a revolver and a 9 mm bullet, sped off on a motorbike with an accomplice. Soon after news of the murder emerged, churches and religious leaders were quick to demand an independent investigation.
"Let an independent taskforce or fact-finding team be established to disclose the facts," said Fr Benny Susetyo, secretary of the Interfaith and Religious Dialogue Commission of the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia in published remarks.
Muhammadiyah, Indonesia's second largest Muslim organization, reportedly also strongly condemned the murder. Its chairman, Din Syamsudin, was quoted as saying by media that security forces "must keep the peace and bring to justice the murderers" of Reverend Kongkoli.
National Police Chief Gen Sutanto told reporters he already ordered an investigation into the pastor's death. "We need to make sure such killings do not happen again," he said in the capital Jakarta.
Kongkoli recently became leader of the Protestant Church of Central Sulawesi (GKST) as its previous chairman, Reverend Rinaldy Damanik, submitted his resignation after failing to win the release of three Catholics.
Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus Da Silva and Marinus Riwa, were shot by a firing squad on September 22 in Palu despite international criticism. Officials said the three men were responsible for the death of several Muslims during inter-faith clashes in the Poso region in 2000.
These three Roman Catholic men were accused of leading a militia in Sulawesi in 2000 that carried out an assault on an Islamic school, killing at least 70 people, charges they strongly denied. The GKST and several human rights groups were among those questioning the evidence against the Catholics saying the trial was marred by pressure from Muslim fundamentalists.
A group of Indonesian church leaders and lawyers are planning to bring the case in front of the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the Netherlands, BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar reported from the Netherlands.
Few Muslims were punished for their part in the unrest, which left 1,000 people of both faiths dead, and none to more than 15 years in jail, human rights investigators say.
There were fears Tuesday, October 17, that the death of protestant Pastor Kongkoli would lead to even more violent clashes than those in the immediate aftermath of the executions of the Catholics. It has also added to concerns that the region will see a repeat of the bloodshed between Christian and Muslim militants that engulfed the area between 1999 and 2001, something Reverend Kongkoli had trying to prevent.
He was "working tirelessly to support peace and interfaith dialogue. He had notably highlighted the failure to properly investigate and enforce the law when addressing incidents of sectarian violence in Central Sulawesi," said religious rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) in a statement to BosNewsLife.
"Our thoughts and prayers are with Reverend Kongkoliâ€™s family at this time. We urge the authorities in Central Sulawesi to condemn this tragic loss of life," said CSW Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas.
"We urge the authorities in Central Sulawesi to condemn this tragic loss of life, making every effort to ensure that agitators do not succeed in restarting sectarian violence. We also call on the authorities to ensure that those responsible are swiftly brought to justice and that the law enforcement officials act in an impartial manner," Thomas added. In a seperate incident, a small bomb exploded in an abandoned house in Poso region, Monday, October 16, but no one was injured. There have reportedly been at least six bomb blasts in Poso and nearby Palu in recent weeks, injuring at least one person. (With additional reporting by BosNewsLife Special Correspondent Eric Leijenaar. Stay with BosNewsLife for continuous coverage on this developing story).
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