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Violence, persecution continue to loom for Indonesian Christians

CENTRAL SULAWESI, Indonesia (BP)–Five people were killed and hundreds of houses were looted and burned when attackers armed with automatic weapons stormed through three Christian villages on Indonesia’s Central Sulawesi island Aug. 12, according to news reports.

Islamic extremist Laskar Jihad fighters were said to be responsible for the attacks.

More than 2,000 people had been killed and tens of thousands displaced from their homes when a peace agreement was signed in December 2001, but now is seen as failing.

Indonesian authorities have not taken decisive action to disarm the perpetrators of the attacks, according to the Barnabas Fund, an international organization working among Christian minorities under Islam.

The Laskar Jihad are believed to be attempting to destroy all pockets of Christians between them and Tentena, the final Christian stronghold in Central Sulawesi and home to more than 65,000 people, according to International Christian Concern, a human rights organization for persecuted Christians. Numerous Christians have taken refuge there after their villages were attacked.

Other recent attacks on Christians in Central Sulawesi, according to the Barnabas Fund, include buses carrying Christian passengers having been bombed and shot at as well as cars stopped at barricades while the Christian occupants were attacked and sometimes killed.

International Christian Concern, meanwhile, has reported that many villagers had fled their homes and were huddled together in small groups under trees and shrubs in nearby jungles, waiting to know if they would be slaughtered in the jungles or left alive. Also, a child was strangled to death, an elderly man was shot several times and many more were killed or badly wounded, according to ICC.

The recent violence comes after Indonesia’s highest legislative body rejected a proposal to introduce Islamic sharia law Aug. 11. Indonesia is the world’s largest Muslim country but remains a secular state.

For those in Southeast Asia who feared Indonesia becoming a center of Islamic militants, the latest rejection of Islamic law is reassuring. But for the proponents of an Islamic state, it is not the end.

“This time we’re in front of a great wall that can’t be penetrated but we won’t surrender,” Najih Ahjad, a member of the Crescent Star Party said, according to The New York Times Aug. 16. “We vow before God and the Muslim society that we’ll keep on fighting.”

Thousands of pro-sharia demonstrators chanted, “There is no God but Allah!” outside Parliament in Jakarta in response to the vote. Women in headscarves waved banners asking for implementation of Islamic law while boys wore T-shirts with photographs of Osama bin Laden, according to the Associated Press.

Earlier reports of violence against Christians came from Ambon, directly east of Sulawesi, where extremists detonated two bombs outside a supermarket in the predominantly Christian area of Mardika on Ambon Island July 27. Fifty-two people were injured, and at least one has died. Another homemade bomb in the Christian area of Gudang Arang was neutralized shortly afterward, according to Compass Direct news service.

Back in Central Sulawesi, Vence Waani, pastor of the Pentecostal Church in Sepe, recounted the Aug. 12 attacks: “The sounds of automatic weapons were coming from all directions, mixed with the hysterical shouting of mothers, the weeping and shrieking of children, the glow and flames of fire from the burning houses all blending into one scene of horror,” International Christian Concern reported. The pastor and his family escaped, but their newly rebuilt church was burned to the ground as jihad warriors attacked and villagers sought to defend themselves with themselves with makeshift machetes, sickles and sharpened bamboo sticks.

“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?” Annette Hammond, an Australian working in aid distribution in the region, told Compass Direct Aug. 14. The Laskar Jihad attacked and destroyed the same village in December 2001.

Todd Nettleton from Voice of the Martyrs, a group that has served the persecuted church for nearly 30 years, said Christians are taking precautions, but beg prayer support.

“They are doing whatever they can to set up defense mechanisms for themselves, they’re also asking the government to provide some type of military presence that will hopefully offset this attack when and if it comes, but they are very much relying on the Lord because really, that’s the only hope they have,” he said in a Mission Network News report.

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  • Erin Curry