Indonesian Christian Leaders Call for Calm as Police Probe into Killings of Three Christian Girls

Religious Leaders in Indonesia have been trying to resist the rising tension between Christians and Muslims since three young Christians were beheaded on Saturday.

Religious Leaders in Indonesia have been trying to resist the rising tension between Christians and Muslims since three young Christians were beheaded on Saturday.

According to the Indonesia-based Jakarta Post newspaper, the Chairman of the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), the Rev. Andreas Yewangoe, denied speculation that religious motives were behind the murders. He added that the Christian and Muslim communities in Indonesia were making good progress in their interfaith relationship.

"Why did the killings take place as both the Muslim and Christian communities were successfully improving their hostile relationship?" ask Yewangoe as he spoke to the Jakarta Post.

Yewangoe added that some PGI officials were sent to Poso, where the murders took place, to calm down Christians and prevent them from taking revenge.

Din Syamsuddin, Chairman of Muhammadiyah – the second largest Muslim group in the nation as well as a long-standing social-religious organization aimed at adapting Islam to modern Indonesian life – was quoted by Jakarta Post as saying, "We strongly condemn the incident, and believe me that this has nothing to do with ties between Muslims and Christians."

Syamsuddin condemned the killings and called those murderers "atheists," the Jakarta Post reported.

A former Indonesian president and well-renowned Muslim figure Abdurrahman Gus Dur Wahid echoed the sentiments, saying, "The murders were perpetrated by heartless people. No religion teaches us to kill our brothers and sisters,” according to the Jakarta Post.

The tension between Christians and Muslims was reignited as three high school students, age 16 to 19-year-old, were beheaded by six unidentified men wielding machetes while on their way to school in the city of Poso, in the province of Central Sulawesi, according to a report by Reuters. Their heads were found at separate sites two hours later by residents.

The beheading has placed strain on the country in light of the escalating violence against Christians and dozens of alleged government-sponsored church closures in West Java. The massive coverage by the media has also drawn much international attention. Reports of the killings were featured across the front pages of virtually all Indonesian newspapers on Sunday, Reuters reported.

The international Christian persecution watchdog, International Christian Concern (ICC), warned of a pattern of persecution against Indonesian Christians in a statement released on Oct. 29, noting that "Radical Islamists have been increasingly forcing churches to close with and without help from local authorities."

ICC described the beheading of the three Christians on Saturday as "a dramatic turn for the worse."

According to Reuters, the Vatican called the killings "barbaric" in a statement and said the pope would pray for "the return of peace among the people" of the region over the last couple months.

"In the holy month of Ramadan, we are again shocked by a sadistic crime in Poso that claimed the lives of three school students," Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono told the Associated Press (AP), "I condemn this barbarous killing, whoever the perpetrators are and whatever their motives."

The president immediately ordered the police to probe into the murders and hunt for the killers on Saturday, reported AP. In addition, more than 1,000 police have been deployed to secure the troubled city of Poso. According to Reuters, Made Rai, a police official at Poso said more than 300 additional officers are expected to arrive on Monday.

Rai told Reuters over a phone interview on Monday, "So far no witness has been questioned and no suspect arrested."

Sources say Poso has been a place of Muslim-Christian clashes from 1998 through 2001 and violence has killed around 2,000 people.

According to Jakarta Post, the Indonesia government has blamed the nationwide violence, especially those against Christians, on terrorist groups. The moderate image of Indonesia – the world’s most populous Islamic country – has been breaking down after waves of alleged terrorist attacks over the recent years, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, Yewangoe, chairman of PGI, urged the Indonesian president Yudhoyono to immediately capture the perpetrators of last Saturday’s triple murder and unearth the real motive behind the crime, according to Jakarta Post.

Yewangoe lamented that President Yudhoyono has not kept the promise that he made ahead of last year’s presidential election, to deal with the uprising violence across the country, Jakarta Post reported.

"I remember that it was during a meeting on Aug. 23 last year, that I reminded Susilo that weak law enforcement was the key problem to dealing with escalating tension among religious adherents in this country. We asked him to address the issue accordingly after he won the election," Yewangoe stated, however "violence has continued to occur. There is no other way to stop it but to impose stiff legal sanctions against the perpetrators."

ICC, in a statement, has called on all concerned individuals to contact the Indonesian embassy to request for the protection of Christians in Poso as well as to end the pattern of Church closings in West Java.

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