Christians in Indonesia Flee Their Homes as Attacks Spread
Police Reinforcements Fail to Curtail Panic in Sulawesi

Special to Compass Direct

LONDON, October 21 (Compass) - Villagers in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia, are
once again fleeing for their lives. They are reacting to recent attacks on four
villages in the Poso district by bands of masked raiders armed with automatic
weapons. Even the deployment of extra armed forces to secure the area has had
little effect upon the worried inhabitants.

"People are too scared to remain in their isolated villages," said Mona
Saroinsong, coordinator of the Crisis Center of the Protestant Church in North
Sulawesi. "They have been walking through the jungle to the coast or making for
Tentena, the nearest Christian town. When I questioned them, they said they did
not trust the authorities to protect them."

Following the October 11 attack on the village of Old Beteleme, (see Compass
Direct news flash, October 14) a further assault was launched in the early
hours of Sunday morning, October 12, on three villages closer to the town of
Poso.

Saatu, Pantangolemba and Pinedapa all had large Christian populations. The
attackers sought out the homes of known Christians and forced them into the
street where they were shot. Police reported that nine people lost their lives
and 11 more were hospitalized.

Investigating the attacks, police have discovered bullet casings and weaponry
which match illegal arms confiscated in Poso town during the previous violence
of 2000.

National police chief General Da'i Bachtiar was shocked by the attack on Old
Beteleme and the other villages. In particular, Old Beteleme was considered to
be in a relatively peaceful area that had avoided much of the violence.

In Koroworu, a village not far from Old Beteleme, the local police encountered
a group of 20 armed intruders. Shots were exchanged and at least one man is
believed to have been killed, but his body fell into the river and was not
recovered.

Two additional companies of police have been moved into the Morowali and Poso
districts, bringing the number of armed police in the area to more than 2,000.

Some Christian men have agreed to return to their villages, which are now under
heavy police protection, but have left their women and children elsewhere,
fearing new attacks. Especially vulnerable are villages such as Malewa and
Galuga, where Christians have resettled.

In Lembomawo village near Poso, the police advised the Christians to evacuate
their women and children after receiving several reports of strangers gathering
behind the village.

In another troubling incident, a young Muslim fish-seller was found drowned in
the Poso river, his body covered by a rice sack and weighed down with a stone.
The authorities are saying he was killed near Pandiri, a majority Christian
village, with the implication that Christians have begun to retaliate.

"This is very troubling for the Christian people who worry that isolated
incidents like this will be blown out of all proportion, and that the violence
will be blamed on them when they are the innocent victims," said Saroinsong.

"The chief of police added insult to injury when he attended this man's funeral
but ignored the funerals of the 11 Christians in the villages," added
Saroinsong.

"There is growing chaos and unabated fear spreading throughout the Christian
community. Please continue to petition the Indonesian government to do
something about the root cause of the violence -- rather than patch over the
cracks -- and make both sides adhere to the Malino agreement. Please keep
praying for us here."


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