Violence: It's not just for Muslims anymore

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Violence: It's not just for Muslims anymore

Executions Spark Violence in Indonesia
Christians upset over executions of three militants in Indonesia torch cars, loot shops

PALU, Indonesia, Sep. 22, 2006
By IRWAN FIRDAUS Associated Press Writer

(AP) Christians angered by Friday's executions of three Roman Catholic militants in the world's most populous Muslim country torched cars and government buildings, looted shops and attacked a jail, freeing hundreds of inmates.

The executions of the men, who faced a firing squad at 1:45 a.m. in Palu for a massacre at an Islamic school six years ago, appeared to smooth the way for the executions of three Muslims convicted in the 2002 Bali bombings. Some analysts said the government would be unwilling to spark public anger by executing the Muslims first.

Vice President Jusuf Kalla appealed for calm following Friday's sectarian violence, which left at least five people injured. He said the executions had nothing to do with religion in this largely secular nation, which has about 190 million Muslims.

"It's a matter of the law. These killings were carried out according to our legal process," he told reporters in the capital, Jakarta.

Fabianus Tibo, 60, Marinus Riwu, 48, and Dominggus da Silva, 42, were convicted of leading a Christian militia that launched a series of attacks in May 2000 _ including a machete and gun assault on an Islamic school that left at least 70 people dead. Muslim groups put the death toll at 191.

The attack on the school was one of the worst incidents during sectarian violence that swept Sulawesi province from 1998 to 2002. At least 1,000 people from both faiths were killed.

Only a few Muslims were ever punished for their part in the unrest, and none were sentenced to more than 15 years behind bars.

Although the government insists Tibo and his associates were given a fair trial, with 28 witnesses providing testimony, legal experts and human rights workers note that Indonesia's judiciary is corrupt and susceptible to outside influence.

Crowds of Muslim hard-liners gathered at the court during the hearings, they noted, likely intimidating judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys and witnesses.

"The men's lawyers received death threats, including a bomb planted at one lawyer's house, and demonstrators armed with stones outside the courthouse demanded that the three be sentenced to death," said Isabelle Cartron of London-based Amnesty International.

Although violence in Sulawesi, which has a significant Christian presence, largely ended with the signing of a peace deal in 2002, there have since been isolated attacks, from bombings to beheadings.

Friday's violence took place on Sulawesi and the nearby islands of Flores and Timor, which are dominated by Christians. All three islands are east of Indonesia's main islands _ Sumatra and Java _ and south of the Philippines. Although Christians make up less than 10 percent of the country's population, they are roughly half the population in the country's east.

Palu, the capital of Sulawesi province, was largely calm Friday, with thousands of police standing on street corners and guarding markets and houses of worship. The officers watched as some 1,000 mourners packed the St. Maria's Church to take part in a requiem.

"My father begged us not to be angry, not to seek revenge," Tibo's son, Robert, told Christian followers after the morning prayers. "He asked us to forgive those who did this to him. 'God blesses all of us,' he said."

But violence raged in the Sulawesi villages of Tentena and Lage, where hundreds of Christians went on a rampage, torching cars and police posts after learning of the executions.

On the island of Flores, the condemned men's birthplace in East Nusatenggara province, machete-wielding youths terrorized residents and tore apart the local parliament, breaking windows and smashing in doors and overturning benches. Thousands also rallied to protest the executions.

On West Timor, more than 200 inmates escaped after mobs assaulted a jail in the town of Atambua, sending guards fleeing into the jungle. By midday only 20 prisoners had been recaptured, deputy national police chief Lt. Gen. Adang Dorodjatun said.

The bodies of Tibo and Riwu were placed on police helicopters and flown to their village of Beteleme in Sulawesi's Morowalai district for burial, police said.

Da Silva was buried in Palu, but his supporters returned to the graveyard late Friday to dig up his body, saying they wanted to substitute his government-issued clothing and coffin with their own.

The executions took place despite an appeal by Pope Benedict XVI to spare the men. The European Union issued a statement calling on the government to put off further executions.

Three Islamic militants awaiting execution for the 2002 bombings on Bali that killed 202 mostly foreign tourists won a delay last month, but time appeared to be running out.

Lawyer Achmad Michdan said he hoped the government would not speed the executions now that the Christians were dead, as many have predicted.

"These cases are completely different," he said, adding that Tibo and his friends had exhausted all legal channels, while his clients still had the right to appeal. He said they would do so next month.

Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful. - Seneca