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that August 12 attacks on the Christian villages started after armed forces guarding the villages were unexpectedly withdrawn.

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 villagers tried to fend off the attackers with farming implements and bamboo spears but soon joined the rest of the villagers in flight.

"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," said the Rev. Vence Waani, pastor of the Sepe Pentecostal Church. "The flames were engulfing the houses. It was a scene of horror."

Waani, his wife, and child were forced to flee the burning village as attackers fired volleys of bullets behind them. They did not see their newly-rebuilt church burnt down.

By 8:30p.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.

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 increased 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.

Suspicions of collusion between the armed forces and the Muslim extremists have grown among Christian leadership. The Rev. Rinaldi Damanik, secretary of the General Synod and coordinator of the Crisis Center of the Protestant Church in Central Sulawesi (GKST), has recently spoken out against what he sees as the authorities' bias against the local Christians.

"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 … "

In November and December, 2001, the Laskar Jihad (Muslim extremists) and local Muslims attacked and destroyed five villages. Sepe was the last attacked and only partially destroyed due to the defense of the villagers and the timely intervention of additional armed forces sent by the government.

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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 said.

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 near Malei prior to the Sulawesi and Sepe attacks. All Christian houses in Malei and neighboring Tongko were destroyed. A team from the GKST attempted to recover 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 now 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 Center of the General Synod of Protestant Churches in North and Central Sulawesi.

"Many Christians have been reported missing," Saroinsong said. "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 traveling on a bus to Gorontalo, and the husband of a teacher from Tagolu is also feared dead. He was on a bus to Palu and has disappeared.

Related Elsewhere

Previous Christianity Today stories about Indonesia include:

The Hard-Won Lessons of Terror and Persecution | Overseas Christians reflect on painful experiences (Sept. 26, 2001)
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)
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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)