Christian Villages Burn Again in Central Indonesia
Protective Armed Forces Withdrawn Before Attack

by Geoff Stamp

CENTRAL SULAWESI, Indonesia, August 14 (Compass) -- The villages of Sepe 
and Silanca, some 10 miles from the city of Poso, have been burned to the 
ground. Reports from several sources confirm that attacks on the Christian 
villages started on the evening of Monday, August 12, after units of the 
armed forces which had been guarding the villages were unexpectedly withdrawn.

Sepe, with a population of 1,250, was attacked at 6:30 p.m. by a large 
group of men dressed in black and firing automatic weapons. Some of the 
villagers tried to fend off the attackers with farming implements and 
bamboo spears but soon joined the rest of the villagers in flight.

The Rev. Vence Waani, pastor of the Sepe Pentecostal Church, described the 
situation as menacing.

The sound of automatic weapons was coming from every direction mixed with 
the hysterical voices of mothers calling for their children, and shrieks of 
fear from the children, he said. The flames were engulfing the houses -- it 
was a scene of horror.

They had no time to watch their newly-rebuilt church being burned down. 
Waani and his wife and child were forced to flee the burning village with 
the attackers firing volleys of bullets behind them.

By 8:30p.m., the village of Sepe was gutted. The Sepe Pentecostal Church 
and the Eklesia Protestant Church were destroyed. The attackers moved on to 
Silanca where they followed the same pattern. They chased away the 
villagers, looted their houses and then set them alight.

A team from the Crisis Centre of the Protestant Church in Central Sulawesi 
(GKST), which is based in the Christian town of Tentena, arrived to collect 
four bodies of Christians who had been killed in last week s violence. They 
also witnessed the attacks. Five loud bomb blasts were heard in Silanca, 
and more blasts came from Sepe. Repeated gunshot could be heard all over 
the place .

All the Christians from the two villages -- some 2,500 -- sought refuge in 
Pandiri and Watuawu, further south of Poso on the road to Tentena. Their 
number is now being swelled by villagers from neighboring Tambaro and 
Maliwuko who no longer feel protected by the armed forces. One report 
states that four trucks carrying a small army unit drove to Silanca and 
Sepe once the attacks were over and the attackers had gone.

In November and December, 2001, the Laskar Jihad (Muslim extremists) and 
local Muslims attacked and destroyed five villages. Sepe was the last to be 
targeted and was only partially destroyed due to the defense of the 
villagers and the timely intervention of additional armed forces sent by 
the government.

Annette Hammond, an Australian pastor working to distribute aid in the 
region, said she feared the situation is as dangerous now as it was then.

This is the second time in just over six months that these people have lost 
everything they possess and had to flee from their burning village. Have 
they no right to live in their own land? We need to pray for the Christians 
in Central Sulawesi, she writes.

The Pentecostal church in Sepe had been rebuilt along with many of the 
homes which had been destroyed. These recent attacks have mocked the 
government rehabilitation plan and destroyed people s faith in the Malino 
Peace Agreement signed between Muslims and Christians last December.

Eight Christians were killed last week in the vicinity of Malei. All 
Christian houses in that village and in neighboring Tongko have been 
destroyed. A team from the Tentena Crisis Centre attempted to recover the 
eight bodies but was blocked. They had to return to the outskirts of Poso 
to negotiate with the authorities for the release and transport of the bodies.

According to reports, both Muslim and Christian communities are preparing 
for an ensuing conflict. Groups of men are active in defending their 
villages, and roadblocks are common.

While the Christians check passing cars for weapons, the Muslims check for 
identity. And if they find a Christian, they will take him or her away. We 
fear that many have been killed in this way, said Mona Saroinsong, the 
Coordinator of the Crisis Centre of the General Synod of Protestant 
Churches in North and Central Sulawesi.

Many Christians have been reported missing. We know of one man who was 
killed in the Kayamanya district of Poso when returning to his house on his 
motorbike. He was stopped by an armed Muslim mob, and when they found out 
he was a Christian, they killed him.

She also mentioned two other incidents. Five Christians were killed while 
travelling on a bus going north to Gorontalo, and the husband of a teacher 
from Tagolu is also feared dead. He was on a bus travelling to Palu and has 
disappeared without a trace.

Suspicions of collusion between the armed forces and the Muslim extremists 
are now growing among the Christian leadership. The Rev. Rinaldi Damanik, 
Secretary of the GKST General Synod and Coordinator of the Tentena Crisis 
Centre, has recently spoken out against what he sees as the authorities 
bias against the local Christians. He accused Yusuf Kalla, the Coordinating 
Minister of Social Welfare, of ignoring the reality of the situation in 
Central Sulawesi. The Minister dismissed the recent shooting of an Italian 
tourist last week as not in the style of the Laskar Jihad in a report in 
the Jakarta Post.

For the people of Central Sulawesi, this is exactly the style of the Laskar 
Jihad and is what has been happening since the beginning of the Poso 
conflict, Damanik said. Car shootings, bus bombings, attacks in villages, 
the killing of innocent civilians.

He added that there were always incidents of violence against Christians 
following the visit of any group of dignitaries, such as Minister Kalla s 
recent visit and the visits of the Minister of Religion and the Chief of 
Police.

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