Mystery surrounds alleged disappearance of 300 children from Banda Aceh
by Mathias Hariyadi
Leaders from all religious communities call for an investigation into the alleged removal of 300 children from Banda Aceh by a US Evangelical organisation. Indonesian Catholics and Protestants deny any link to the group and reject accusations of proselytism.

Banda Aceh (AsiaNews) – Catholic, Protestant and Muslim leaders have called on the government to investigate the alleged disappearance of a group of Indonesian orphans who were allegedly taken from Banda Aceh to Jakarta.

The call comes after the Washington Post reported that 300 children were taken to Jakarta by WorldHelp, a US-based Evangelical group.

Rev Vernon Brewer, WorldHelp's president, said he had "moved" the children with the government's permission to Protestant orphanages in Jakarta.

Indonesia's Foreign Ministry denied the claim and Muslim groups expressed harsh criticism against the danger of "proselytising" under the guise of humanitarian aid.

A government spokesman denied the government had received any request or given any permission to WorldHelp.

World Help followed suit releasing a statement saying that it did not receive any permission from the authorities in Jakarta.

Masdar Farid Mas'udi, an executive member of Indonesia's largest Muslim organisation, the Nadhlatul Ulama (NU), called on the government to investigate the whole issue. "Such initiatives," he said, "could undermine the climate of religious harmony".

Fr Benny Susetyo, executive secretary and spokesperson for the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia, said that "Indonesian Catholics would never carry out proselytism among Acehnese orphans", adding that "no Catholic [. . .] orphanage in the country has received any Acehnese children".

To avoid further doubts, Father Susetyo urged all international Christian humanitarian organisations to cooperate with local parishes and Church organisations in order to work with Muslims to bring relief assistance in Aceh. He added his voice in support to the government's ban on moving orphans from Banda Aceh.

Indonesian Protestant Synod of Churches has launched an internal investigation to find out what the situation is. On of its executive members, Rev Andreas A Yewangoe, said the Synod had "nothing to do with the so-called WorldHelp" and wondered whether the latter actually existed.

Rev Albertus Patty said that that rumours about alleged proselytism are going around only in Jakarta, not in Banda Aceh, where "people from different cultures and religions are working together, hand in hand, to help tsunami victims. [. . .] The WorldHelp case," he said, "is being exaggerated".

Brigadier General Pranowo of the National Police stated that he did not believe in the claims made by the US-based organization that it moved 300 Acehnese children to Jakarta.

He reiterated that law enforcement agencies are in full alert in all major points in and around Banda Aceh against possible child trafficking.