11/17/2003, 00.00
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Protestant pastor killed, fear of conflict renewed

Jakarta (AsiaNews) – Tensions between Christians and Muslims were ignited again in the Sulawesi and Molucas islands. Police declared a maximum state of alert. It is feared the situation will break out again with levels of violence paramount to those of the 1999-2001 war resulting in thousands of deaths among Christian and Muslim populations.

Yesterday Nov. 16 a protestant pastor and his driver were found dead in the vicinity of Poso city in the Sulawesi islands, where violent conflicts were recorded. A crowd of Muslims besieged a police station in an act of protest against the recent killings and arrests of suspected militants. One month ago (Oct. 11-12) A group of Islamic militants attacked Christian villages in Poso Pesisir, causing 12 deaths. Another group on Oct. 9 attacked the village of Bethlehem, killing 3 Christians and incinerating 30 homes. All attacks are linked to Jemaah Islamiah, the group held responsible for a series of explosions in Indonesia, some of which occurred in Bali (300 deaths) and at Jakarta's Marriott Hotel (12 deaths, 147 wounded).

In Poso, over 2000 police and some one-hundred special Briomb guard troops intervened to restore order in the city.

There is also tension in the Molucas islands. An article written for Channel News Asia by a France Press journalist brings the situation to light: Christians and Muslims in the Molucas Islands are again trying to live to together 21 months since a peace agreement was stipulated 12 Feb. 2002, marking the end to years of bloodshed. Yet fear, fed by the memory of thousands of dead victims, still divides them. A local United Nations official for humanitarian operations, Anthony Badha, said: "Fear must still be overcome, and this cannot happen overnight, in a month or even a year." Financial relief has arrived to encourage refugees to rebuild their homes, but Amboina (the capital of the Molucas islands) is a city marked by division and its persisting fear."

There is a neutral zone in the city which was once the front for violent clashes.  This area divides the Muslim from the Christian sector. Here in the city's center for shopping and administration offices groups of friends from different factions can now meet without fear. Yet other than this neutral area, there are very few safe places, where Christians and Muslims living together are free from danger. Raihun Umagap, a Muslim living in a camp with some 3000 refugees, says that "it is still not safe to return home." Her husband was killed in sniper-fire in 1999 upon leaving the Mosque. Jacob Hukom has lived in a Christian refugee camp since 1999, where his son was born among the barracks. He, too, pays testimony to the fear felt: "My home in the Batumerah Muslim quarter was destroyed by fire. I can't go back there. I stick out too much. But neither do I want to spend the rest of my life here."   

Nearly two years since reaching a peace agreement, both factions refuse to assume responsibility for the conflicts. Christians feel threatened by Muslim immigrants and accuse the army of having supported Muslims during the war. From the Muslim perspective, Christians are accused of having monopolized state bureaucracy. Both agree that the conflict has been fueled from the outside. Christians affirm that military and some political officials sparked violent outbreaks. In May 2003 at least 3000 members of the Islamic Laskar Jihad militia arrived in the Molucas islands. Authorities did nothing to stop them. Last year the Laskar Jihad announced their leaving the islands, while some members (at least 100) are still in the territory. (SF)
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