02/15/2013, 00.00
INDONESIA
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Authorities appeal for calm after latest attack against churches in South Sulawesi

by Mathias Hariyadi
Three Protestant churches were attacked at dawn. Unknown assailants who arrived on motorbikes threw Molotov cocktails against the buildings. The attack lasted an hour and follows a similar incident a few days ago. Observers fear an escalation in sectarian violence as part of a political plan to destabilise the country.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) - Indonesian authorities have appealed for calm after a number of Christian places of worship were attacked in Makassar, capital of South Sulawesi. In Jakarta, the central government is particularly concerned to avoid an escalation that might lead to sectarian violence.

Three Protestant churches were attacked with Molotov cocktails by unknown assailants. Although there was little damage, the incident has raised concerns that they are part of some political plan to heighten sectarian tensions in order to destabilise the country's political institutions and thus undermine coexistence in the world's most populous Muslim country.

The attack occurred in central Makassar at dawn yesterday, St Valentine's Day, which is a controversial celebration in the Muslim nation. Riding their motorcycles, unidentified attackers three flammable devices at the different places of worship over the period of an hour.

The first church that was hit belongs to the GKI (Indonesian Christian Church), on Samiun Road (pictured). This was followed by an attack against the Toraja Church on AP Pettarani Road and finally a third Protestant church in Gatot. Local sources report that no one was hurt and the three buildings suffered only minor damages.

A police spokesperson in Jakarta said that the attack was connected to attempts by Muslim extremists to heighten sectarian sentiments and fuel religious conflict.

In light of the situation, Indonesian State Intelligence Agency Chief General Marciano Norman appealed to residents to stay calm, urging them not to respond to provocations from any group.

Home to an important university, Makassar has over the years become a major tourist and trading centre. For a long time, it was an island of peace and calm.

Things began changing last year when Muslim extremists three a homemade device against South Sulawesi Governor Sahrul Yasril Limpo. Earlier this year, two Muslim extremists were killed in a shootout with police at a local mosque. And this Monday, unidentified attackers firebombed the Toraja Mamassa Protestant church, causing minor damage.

Sulawesi Island and neighbouring Maluku Islands are not new to bloodshed. Between 1997 and 2001, violence broke out pitting Muslims against Christians. Thousands of people were affected. Homes, churches and mosques were destroyed. An estimated half a million people became homeless, including 25,000 in the city of Polo alone.

The violence came to a formal end on 20 December 2001, when Christian and Muslim leaders signed a truce in Malino, South Sulawesi, worked out by the government.

This however did not stop all acts of violence. Perhaps one of the worst was the beheading by Muslim extremists of three Christian schoolgirls in October 2005.

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