Jakarta (AsiaNews) - The city of Poso, in the Indonesian province of Central Sulawesi, has been the scene of renewed sectarian violence against the local Protestant minority. Overnight on Sunday, unknown assailants set fire to the Madele Pentecostal Church. The quick intervention of the congregation stopped the fire from spreading and spared the building from serious damages. The anti-Christian attack "occurred last night around midnight," Poso Police Chief Eko Santoso said, confirming the sectarian nature of the incident. Indonesia is the world's largest Muslim nation, but Poso Regency (District) has a large Christian community. It saw bloody clashes that left thousands of people dead on both sides until a peace deal was struck in 2002.
The fire started when a collection box was doused with petrol and then set alight. Flames eventually spread to the pastor's residence. Only the intervention of the fire department and volunteers prevented the blaze from causing major damages to the two buildings. Rev Aben thanked villagers, including "some Muslims," who came to rescue, playing a decisive role in preventing the fire from spreading.
Yesterday, two car bombs also exploded near a police traffic post, wounding three people, including two police agents on duty at the time. Investigators believe the post was the target.
"The terrorist group used a sophisticated device in which they detonated the bomb remotely through a mobile handset," one agent said.
In recent weeks, Poso has been the scene of renewed sectarian violence. The port city has seen attacks against Christian-owned buildings, including places of worship.
Two law enforcement agents have also been murdered under mysterious circumstances. They went missing whilst investigating a recent attack against a prominent member of the Christian community. Their bodies were found after eight days on the side of a road near a training centre connected to an extremist Muslim group.
Between 1997 and 2001, Christians and Muslims were involved in a violent conflict on Sulawesi Island and neighbouring Maluku Islands. Thousands of people died and hundreds of churches and mosques were destroyed. Thousands of homes were also razed. About half a million people found themselves homeless, 25,000 in Poso alone.
On 20 December 2001, the two sides reached a truce that was signed in Malino, South Sulawesi, following a peace initiative by the government. The local population is evenly split between Christians and Muslims.
Despite the peace deal, terrorist incidents continued on and leaving a trail of innocent victims. One of the most horrific cases, which caused indignation around the world, was the beheading by Muslim extremists in October 2005 of three Christian girls on their way to school.