10/26/2004, 00.00
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Despite wall demolition, tensions remain high at the St Bernadette-Sang Timur School compound

Former President Abdurrahman Wahid urges people to engage in dialogue. Catholic authorities refrain from comments because of tense situation.

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – For three weeks, the Sang Timur (the Child Jesus) Catholic School in Tangerang village, Cileduk, Banten province (35-40 km west of Jakarta) was isolated by a two-meter wall. This is no more the case for this symbol of religious intolerance was torn down after local authorities ordered its demolition. Islamic militants from the Karang Tengah Youth Front built the wall in early October in order to stop the activities of the school and the St Bernadette parish which operates within the school compound. Tensions still remain high since Muslim fundamentalists accuse the Catholic community of proselytising.

The sisters of the Child Jesus who run the school told AsiaNews that they still felt threatened. "Some unidentified people said that they were ready to build another wall," they said. Organised in an Islamic Communication Forum some Karang Tengah villagers joined the Karang Tengah Youth Front to stage a violent protest against the demolition of the wall.

But members of the Banser (Barisan Serba Guna), a youth organisation affiliated with Nahdlatul Ulama, the country's largest Muslim organization, are keeping an eye on the compound. Both Banser and the Nahdlatul Ulama have helped the Catholic Church in the past providing security during Easter and Christmas celebrations.

The wall was torn down a few hours before former President Abdurrahman Wahid (aka Gus Dur) paid a visit to the compound. He is leading member of the Nahdlatul Ulama and a well-known promoter of inter-faith dialogue. As a mediator in this crisis he met the local Muslim community in the Nurul Imam mosque where he denounced the behaviour of local authorities who have not stopped lawlessness and denied Catholics the necessary permits to build a permanent church outside the school compound.

"You have highlighted Sang Timur's faults but you have not realised how your actions—denying others their religious freedom and children their right to an education—have violated the Constitution," he said. "Muslims are the majority; they should protect the rights of minority groups," the former president added.  He ended by warning that if the violence did not stop he would send in more Banser members and take the matter to the court.

Catholic authorities chose not to release any statement about the incident. Sources inside the Bishops' Conference of Indonesia told AsiaNews that "the situation is still tense and in such circumstances, silence is golden". The Church does not want to cause further friction and "compromise the harmony between religious communities".

Indonesia's new President, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, told his Minister for Religious Affairs Maftuh Basyuni to get authorities in Tangerang to reopen the school and parish. People's Prosperity Affairs Minister Alwi Shihab urged leaders from both parties to take steps to end the crisis. "Christians and Muslims are friends," he said.

A second wall built last Sunday to block the school's postern entrance has not yet been torn down.

School officials said that classes should restart as soon as possible. (MH)

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