Indonesian troops slaughter Christians

By Michael Sheridan, Manado, Indonesia 

Sunday, August 13, 2000 (The Times [London]) -- THE MARTYRDOM
of the village of Duma began with the gathering of spectral figures 
in white shrouds chanting about holy war and death. By the time
it ended, 208 Christian villagers taking refuge in a church had
been slaughtered by Muslims who call themselves the Laskar Jihad,
or holy warriors.

The most sinister aspect of this mass murder in the Spice Islands of
Indonesia comes from the consistent testimony of the survivors who escaped
in boats and now fill a hospital in Manado, where most of the population is
Christian, on the island of Sulawesi. 

They say soldiers of the 511th and 512th battalions of the Indonesian army,
who were supposed to keep the peace, put on the ghoulish robes of the
jihadis, wrapped the barrels of their weapons in white cloth and joined in
the massacre. 

The Sunday Times has interviewed numerous survivors of the massacre, which
took place on June 19. Their statements bear out detailed allegations
compiled by Alexander Mellerse, a reporter in Manado. 

No police officer or state attorney has bothered to collect evidence from
the victims. Yet the butchery at Duma signifies a campaign of extremist
Islamic violence that is tearing at the fabric of Indonesia. 

Both Muslims and Christians have committed atrocities during violence in
the great arc of islands across the north of the archipelago. But the Duma
murders demonstrate the difference between flare-ups of old vendettas and a
new campaign by Muslim extremists imported to kill and expel Christians
from the Spice Islands. 

The plan is tacitly endorsed by Muslim politicians in Jakarta, the capital,
who have just failed to impose shariah law on Indonesia's 210m people.
There is evidence of arms, cash and tough young militants flowing to join
the fray from the Abu Sayyaf terrorists in the Philippines, whose members
have reaped millions of pounds from taking foreign hostages. 

In turn, the Abu Sayyaf group has well-established connections with Osama
Bin Laden, the Saudi terror suspect, and fundamentalist groups based in
Afghanistan and Pakistan. Their agenda is simple: destruction of
Indonesia's  traditions of religious tolerance through chaos and terror. 

The implications for western trade and strategy are now causing serious 
concern to governments from Canberra to Washington and Tokyo. 

Such hard politics would have seemed as remote as the moon to the simple
folk of Duma, pursuing their farming and worship in their isolated corner
of the island of Halmahera. "There was never any trouble with our
neighbours," said one village headman, Johannes Bahang, 44, "until the
'white group' came to the island." 

The "white group" were the Laskar Jihad, young men brought in by ship from 
Aceh and Java in their trademark robes of war. 

Playing on local animosities, they soon set village against village. "On
June 18 we were warned by the army that the village would be attacked the
next day," said Bahang. "We asked for protection but got none." 

The villagers, who belonged to a number of evangelical Christian sects,
often gathered for safety at the Nita church. It was a big building that
could hold 1,000 and there was a 7 foot perimeter wall which made them feel
safe. Night after night, the Christians had slept behind the wall while men
kept watch.

But on the morning of the 19th their luck ran out.  Samuel Kukus, 42, was
one of the village leaders who had armed themselves  with old or home-made
weapons. "We had resisted two of their attacks but this time they came back
in much greater numbers. There were soldiers who had joined them, and they
all had better guns. We had no alternative but to surrender, so the village
chief and I walked out with a white flag." 

The jihadis refused to accept their surrender. One account says that one of
the surrender party was cut down with a sword. Within minutes, atrocious
violence erupted. 

"They threw bombs over the wall and I started to run away from the church,
"said Alji Nusa, 24. "Then came a second wave of bombs which struck me with
shrapnel and I fainted. Before I ran, I looked around and saw that nobody
was left alive. There were people whose arms had been cut off, people who
had been slashed." 

Among the dead was her husband, Lukius, 26. "I saw who did it," she said.
"Some were in the white jihad clothes and others were in camouflage

Sutarsi Selong, 29, said she was confronted by a soldier who screamed at
her to shout "Allah akbar" ("God is great"). When she failed to do so, he
put his gun in her mouth and pulled the trigger, blowing away her left
cheek. Then he pulled out a bayonet and slashed from the bridge of her nose
down through her lips. 

Bathsheba Sumtaki, 32, saw her daughter Moisari, 8, collapse from three
wounds in her right leg. She picked up the child and ran. "She still needs
an operation to get out bits of the bomb," the mother said. The child is
one of 290 people said to have been injured. 

The survivors were saved, they said, by the arrival of a unit of Indonesian
air force troops. They did not shoot but there was a standoff with the
jihadis that stopped the killing. It took those interviewed more than two
weeks to struggle to the coast and make it in small boats to Manado. 

Megawati Sukarnoputri, the vice-president, visited the survivors in Manado
hospital. They booed and shouted at her to do something. "It's not my
responsibility," she told them.

[Photo: Unholy horror: eight-year-old shrapnel victim Moisari Sumtaki has 
survived the Duma massacre to become one of thousands of refugees fleeing
the white-clad Muslim jihadis' holy war in the Spice Islands]

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