The villages of Sepe and Silanca, some 10 miles from the city of Poso, have been burned to the ground. Reports from several sources confirm that attacks on the Christian villages started on the evening of Monday, August 12, after units of the armed forces which had been guarding the villages were unexpectedly withdrawn.
Compass Direct – 17 August 2002 – Sepe, with a population of 1,250, was attacked at 6:30 p.m. by a large group of men dressed in black and firing automatic weapons. Some of the villagers tried to fend off the attackers with farming implements and bamboo spears but soon joined the rest of the villagers in flight.
The Rev. Vence Waani, pastor of the Sepe Pentecostal Church, described the situation as “menacing.”
“The sound of automatic weapons was coming from every direction mixed with the hysterical voices of mothers calling for their children, and shrieks of fear from the children,” he said. “The flames were engulfing the houses — it was a scene of horror.”
They had no time to watch their newly-rebuilt church being burned down. Waani and his wife and child were forced to flee the burning village with the attackers firing volleys of bullets behind them.
By 8:30 p.m., the village of Sepe was gutted. The Sepe Pentecostal Church and the Eklesia Protestant Church were destroyed. The attackers moved on to Silanca where they followed the same pattern. They chased away the villagers, looted their houses and then set them alight.
A team from the Crisis Centre of the Protestant Church in Central Sulawesi (GKST), which is based in the Christian town of Tentena, arrived to collect four bodies of Christians who had been killed in last week’s violence. They also witnessed the attacks. Five loud bomb blasts were heard in Silanca, and more blasts came from Sepe. Repeated gunshot could be heard “all over the place”.
All the Christians from the two villages — some 2,500 — sought refuge in Pandiri and Watuawu, further south of Poso on the road to Tentena. Their number is now being swelled by villagers from neighboring Tambaro and Maliwuko who no longer feel protected by the armed forces. One report states that four trucks carrying a small army unit drove to Silanca and Sepe once the attacks were over and the attackers had gone.
In November and December, 2001, the Laskar Jihad (Muslim extremists) and local Muslims attacked and destroyed five villages. Sepe was the last to be targeted and was only partially destroyed due to the defense of the villagers and the timely intervention of additional armed forces sent by the government.
Annette Hammond, an Australian pastor working to distribute aid in the region, said she feared the situation is as dangerous now as it was then.
“This is the second time in just over six months that these people have lost everything they possess and had to flee from their burning village. Have they no right to live in their own land? We need to pray for the Christians in Central Sulawesi,” she writes.
The Pentecostal church in Sepe had been rebuilt along with many of the homes which had been destroyed. These recent attacks have mocked the government rehabilitation plan and destroyed people’s faith in the Malino Peace Agreement signed between Muslims and Christians last December.
Eight Christians were killed last week in the vicinity of Malei. All Christian houses in that village and in neighboring Tongko have been destroyed. A team from the Tentena Crisis Centre attempted to recover the eight bodies but was blocked. They had to return to the outskirts of Poso to negotiate with the authorities for the release and transport of the bodies.
According to reports, both Muslim and Christian communities are preparing for an ensuing conflict. Groups of men are active in defending their villages, and roadblocks are common.
“While the Christians check passing cars for weapons, the Muslims check for identity. And if they find a Christian, they will take him or her away. We fear that many have been killed in this way,” said Mona Saroinsong, the Coordinator of the Crisis Centre of the General Synod of Protestant Churches in North and Central Sulawesi.
“Many Christians have been reported missing. We know of one man who was killed in the Kayamanya district of Poso when returning to his house on his motorbike. He was stopped by an armed Muslim mob, and when they found out he was a Christian, they killed him.”
She also mentioned two other incidents. Five Christians were killed while travelling on a bus going north to Gorontalo, and the husband of a teacher from Tagolu is also feared dead. He was on a bus travelling to Palu and has disappeared without a trace.
Suspicions of collusion between the armed forces and the Muslim extremists are now growing among the Christian leadership. The Rev. Rinaldi Damanik, Secretary of the GKST General Synod and Coordinator of the Tentena Crisis Centre, has recently spoken out against what he sees as the authorities’ bias against the local Christians. He accused Yusuf Kalla, the Coordinating Minister of Social Welfare, of ignoring the reality of the situation in Central Sulawesi. The Minister dismissed the recent shooting of an Italian tourist last week as “not in the style of the Laskar Jihad” in a report in the Jakarta Post.
“For the people of Central Sulawesi, this is exactly the style of the Laskar Jihad and is what has been happening since the beginning of the Poso conflict,” Damanik said. “Car shootings, bus bombings, attacks in villages, the killing of innocent civilians…”
He added that there were always incidents of violence against Christians following the visit of any group of dignitaries, such as Minister Kalla’s recent visit and the visits of the Minister of Religion and the Chief of Police.
Copyright © 2002 Compass Direct
Posted on Religioscope with permission from Compass Direct.
Compass Direct (Santa Ana, California) is a Christian news service dedicated to providing news on situations and events facing Christians persecuted for their faith. Compass Direct maintains an extensive network of news bureaus and correspondents around the world.
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