In the morass of civil strife still terrorizing residents of Indonesia's Maluku Islands after more than two years, Christian families are forced at gunpoint to convert to Islam in rituals that include genital mutilation for females and dull-bladed circumcision for males. Those who refuse to convert are killed by jihad warriors, who afterward display the severed heads of some victims as a warning to others.

News reports and fact-finding efforts by advocacy groups confirm that ordinary Christians on the islands of Ambon, Kesui, and Teor have been killed for refusing to convert to Islam since last year, when a Muslim jihad (holy war) militia launched a campaign to rid the area of Christianity. This armed "religious cleansing" began after a year of civil war had been waged with machetes, spears, and bows and arrows between Christians and Muslims, who previously lived together peaceably.

Indonesia is 83 percent Muslim. Christians make up 13 percent of the population, but the figure (including both Protestants and Catholics) is near 50 percent in parts of the Malukus. The arrival of the jihad warriors to Ambon, Kesui, and Teor from nearby islands reportedly came in response to nominally Christian gangs forcing Muslims to convert during the machete-and-spear phase of the conflict; some also suspect Muslim warriors came to quell the independence movement.

Government security forces sent to maintain order are ineffective, as well as divided—some supporting and others opposing President Abdurrahman Wahid. Within this context, in which at least 5,000 people on both sides have been killed, 3,000 armed jihad warriors have forced thousands of unarmed Christians in Ambon, Kesui, and Teor to flee to mountain jungles to escape death or forced conversion. Their homes are often torched.

Local peace talks have begun, but atrocities and jihad street battles with nominally Christian bands of armed young men continue. Still, the vast majority of Christians do not retaliate against the invaders, advocacy groups say. Civilian Christians surviving attacks of the Muslim jihad are typically gathered into mosques, where, according to the Southern Baptist Convention's International Mission Board (IMB), they are forced under threat of death to perform conversion rituals.

After such an ordeal last December, one 32-year-old woman described to IMB representatives how she was given no painkillers or antiseptic when a Muslim woman cut off her clitoris with a knife. Some men circumcised under the same conditions developed infections.

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Related Elsewhere

Previous Christianity Today stories about Indonesia include:
Persecuted Indonesian Christians Evacuated | International Christian Concern and Christian Aid raising $1.2 million to rescue 7,000 (Mar. 19, 2001)

Indonesian Province's Anniversary Protest Controlled | Violence was anticipated from independence fighters who massacred non-Papuan Christians last month. (Dec. 4, 2000)

Christians and Muslims Still Fighting, Dying in Ambon | Governor, others decline to intervene in jihad attacks. (Oct. 4, 2000)

Indonesian Island Attacks Go Unnoticed | World ignoring plight of Christians in Ambon, visitors say. (Aug. 21, 2000)

Daily Life in the Maluku Islands: Chaos, Fear, and the Threat of Violence | Christians plead for international monitoring to prevent Jihad raids, and more aid for refugees. (Aug. 1, 2000)

Churches Pressure for Swift Action to Calm Maluku Violence | Indonesian army joining in attacks on Christians. (July 21, 2000)

Indonesian Religious Riot Death Toll Dwarfs 30 New Corpses | Death count has passed 1,700. (Mar.3, 2000)

Maluku Islands Unrest Spreads to Greater Indonesia | Violence on Lombok Island may hasten government intervention. (Jan. 25, 2000)

Ministries Intensify As East Timorese Refugee Camps Grow | Evangelicals working furiously to meet physical and spiritual needs. (Sept. 6, 1999)

Dozens Die in New Clashes | 95 killed in religious riots in Maluku province. (Mar. 1, 1999)

Christians Killed, Churches Burned | Muslim mobs vent their rage against Indonesian Christians. (Jan. 11, 1999)

Muslim Mobs Destroy Churches | 10 Protestant churches severely damaged in riots. (Sept. 16, 1996)

For news updates and opinion pieces about Indonesia, see Yahoo's full coverage area.

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