Indonesia: The "Inside" Story

Sunday, August 4, 2002

The events in Central Sulawesi are finally beginning to get the attention of major newspapers. An article in the New York Times December 1 said, "Thousands of Christian villagers on the Indonesian island of Sulawesi are fleeing attacks by armed Muslim paramilitary forces." The article quoted a Roman Catholic priest, "Thousands have fled...What could they do? Their houses have been burned. The police came yesterday, but it was too late."

Another article in the Washington Post yesterday quoted a local army officer in Poso as saying that Muslims had fled their homes and were staying in police stations and military barracks. "It is very tense here. Shops are closed as townsfolk are scared of more trouble."

Both articles contained exactly the same sentence: "Fighting between Muslim and Christian villagers in Sulawesi, about 1000 miles northeast of Jakarta, has taken at least 1000 lives in the last two years."

The Jakarta Post said that about 150 people on both sides have died in the past two months.

This might give the impression that the Christians and the Muslims are attacking each other. A telephone call to the Indonesian Desk of the U.S. State Department even elicited the response that the Christians also were guilty of initiating violence. The spokesman did not give examples.

Here is the "inside" story.

The radical Islamic group, Laskar Jihad, has been attacking village after village, burning houses and destroying churches, and the Christians are running and fighting for their lives. Over the weekend, Laskar Jihad militants attacked and burned a half-dozen villages in Central Sulawesi, bringing to at least 21 the number of Christian villages pillaged in recent weeks.

The "Holy War Troops" are armed with AK-47s, grenades, bombs and homemade weapons, and according to one report, come with circular saws and a tanker full of fuel so that the houses will ignite and burn faster. The Christian villagers have only a few ordinary rifles, homemade guns and bows and arrows to defend themselves.

As many as 7000 Laskar Jihad terrorists have gathered in Central Sulawesi and are now surrounding the predominantly Christian city of Tentena, inhabited by around 63,000 people, including many who fled from surrounding villages before the advancing jihad troops. Inside the city, the 35 mobile police have only three rifles among them. The rest of their weapons were taken away--allegedly to constrain the potential for conflict!

In contrast to the Muslims who purportedly took refuge in the police barracks (mentioned by the Muslim army officer above), when the jihad terrorists attacked the villages of Sepe and Silanca, Christians fled for safety to the military barracks in Kawua, but were turned away by the military there, who reportedly later joined the terrorists in attacking the villages.

A villager of Pantangolemba said that when jihad troops stormed that village, members of the Indonesian Army stationed there just shot into the air--so they would not harm any of the advancing terrorists. Two of the Muslim soldiers went and hid until the conflict had subsided.

It is true authorities have arrested some of the militants. A member of the Laskar Jihad was sentenced to seven months in jail for possessing an AK-47. At the same time, a Christian was given a seven-year jail sentence for possessing a machete--a common implement among Indonesian farmers.

Some Islamic groups have called for a cessation of military activities in Afghanistan out of respect for Ramadan--the Muslim month of fasting. But the Laskar Jihad isn't letting up on their aggressive attacks on defenseless Christians in Indonesia. An October radio broadcast by the Laskar Jihad urged militants to expel Christians from Poso (a main seaport and district in Central Sulawesi).

Before the Laskar Jihad attacked Maluku Province last year, the area was about 37 percent Christian and 57 percent Muslim. Some say the region was nearly 50 percent Christian before President Suharto began his "transmigration" program--subsidizing Muslims to move from Muslim-dominated areas to regions heavily populated by Christians. Now the area is virtually 100% Muslim--because Christians have either been forced to flee for their lives or have been forced to convert to Islam. But Christian Aid is still joining others in attempting to rescue Christians trapped by jihad troops against their will who still believe in the Lord Jesus in their hearts and want to be rescued.

It should be said that most of this terror is fanned by economic unrest and comes from outside agitators. Some of the militants captured had Afghan features, long beards (required of bin Laden followers) and could not speak Indonesian! Most Muslim residents of the area want merely to live their lives in peace with their neighbors--Muslim or otherwise.

When suicide skyjackers drove two loaded passenger planes into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, nearly 5000 people died.

This galvanized the nations against terrorism. In the violence in Maluku--and now Sulawesi--an estimated 9,000 people have died. Isn't this enough to grab the world's attention?

FLASH: Minutes before this newsletter was to be dispatched, a report from Compass Direct said that five truckloads of army troops arrived in Tentena to thwart the efforts of some 2000 jihad terrorists, and that some of the Indonesian troops had moved on to Poso to guard villages there. Two pastors representing the Synod of the Christian Church of Central Sulawesi in Tentena had faxed an emergency appeal to the Minister of Defense and Security on November 29. The very next day, the Cabinet had ordered the army to defend Tentena, and by 4:30 that same day they had arrived. "To some of this is seen not far short of a miracle, especially if we consider the usually longer time the military and the police force respond to such situations," said a local Christian.

The security minister in Jakarta subsequently ordered 4000 more troops sent to Poso with the order to expel anyone that does not have a valid reason for being there. It is thought that this might be a move to rid the area of Laskar Jihad militants, who are not made up of local Muslims.