5,000 Reportedly Forced to Convert to Islam

Christians Were Stranded in Indonesian Islands

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JAKARTA, Indonesia, DEC. 15, 2000 (ZENIT.org).-

Christians in the Molucca Islands have accused Muslims of carrying out a campaign of forced conversions to Islam, the South China Morning Post reported.

Church sources said around 5,000 converts had recently been identified in the east of Seram, the second largest of the islands, the Post said. They were from a Christian community left for dead several months ago during a wave of attacks by Muslim militiamen, the newspaper said.

Further grim evidence of the violence sweeping the Moluccas surfaced Thursday when three bodies were found and some 40 people were reported missing and feared dead after an attack on a boat carrying Muslims from Ternate island to a port in northern Halmahera last week, a port official said, according to the Post.

Isolated in strongly Muslim territory, the Seram Christians had been forced to change their religion to save their lives, the newspaper said. Although a few recently escaped, most are still stranded for lack of funds, said Febry Tetelepta, of an interdenominational Christian Crisis Center in Jakarta.

It was one of two serious cases of forced conversions to Islam, Tetelepta said, according to the Post. The other involved dozens of Christian refugees from Duma village, in the northern island of Halmahera.

Reports from escapees said those people had been taken to the neighboring Muslim island of Tidore, where some of the women had been forced to marry Muslims and some of the men forced to undergo circumcision, the Post said.

The fundamentalist Laskar Jihad militia was involved in both incidents, Tetelepta said. A spokesman for the Ahlus Sunnah Wal Jama´ah Communication Forum, the Java-based parent body of Laskar Jihad, could not be contacted by the Post for comment.

Tetelepta said church groups had mounted a series of protests to government officials and world bodies, including the United Nations, but to date had had no adequate response. He accused Indonesian police and military of failing to help the stranded Christians and actively blocking such help. The police and military hold special powers in the Moluccas since a state of civil emergency was declared several months ago. He demanded urgent action to evacuate the thousands stranded in east Seram.

The 5,000 converts are in the district of Tehoru, in east Seram, a large island to the north of Ambon. Mainly from the Teluti parish, they were left behind during attacks on the area some six months ago as their neighbors fled into woodlands to escape the Muslim attackers.

The incident in Halmahera, which also occurred several months ago, involved truckloads of refugees moved from the Christian village of Duma. Around half had since escaped, Tetelepta said, but exactly where the other half were now held was unclear. However, escapees reported they had been taken to Tidore, an area normally off-limits to Moluccan Christians these days. Duma was the site of a wave of Muslim attacks earlier this year.

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