A strange thing happened in Indonesia last fall: The armed Islamic extremists who terrorized churches on the Maluku and Sulawesi islands for nearly three years suddenly left.
Their stated reason for leaving: They had completed their mission of ridding the areas of Christians. Maluku was once 40.5 percent Christian; Sulawesi, 16.4 percent.
"They're done with religious cleansing there," says Paul Marshall, senior fellow at Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom. "There are refugees who have fled, and there are refugees who have been driven out of their villages but are starting to move back."
The well-armed militias have left 88,700 people from Maluku and Sulawesi as refugees, according to Connie Snyder of International Christian Concern.
In all, since 1999 Muslim extremists reportedly displaced 600,000 Christians in Indonesia, though many of those have returned. Thus the "religious cleansing" was neither total nor permanent.
Threats remain on the Indonesian archipelago, which is 80 percent Muslim and 16 percent Christian. Most of the Laskar Jihad extremists returned to their native Java, from which they plan to launch assaults on other islands. At least 3,000 Islamic extremists have amassed in West Papua (Irian Jaya)—a 73 percent Christian region that Laskar Jihad has declared as its next target.
Additionally, Laskar Jihad and the Islamic Defenders Front left the locals in Maluku and Sulawesi better armed and trained to fight returning Christians. Since conflict broke out in 1998, local mobs have destroyed more than 600 churches.
Marshall says the absence of the Islamic militias in Maluku and Sulawesi, though, should enable inhabitants to build peace on 2001 agreements. "Agreements have been reached before," he says, "and ...1