Throughout the Christmas season, Moslem militia groups stepped up their attacks on Catholics and Protestants in the Moluccas (Spice Islands). Villages were razed to the ground and hundreds of people were forced to convert to Islam on the islands of Keswei and Teor. "The choice to become Islam under such circumstances cannot be called free," said Fr Agus Laritembun from the diocese of Ambon, who visited the islands with local government officials recently. He said: "The Muslim leaders we met told us that there was no need to evacuate anyone because they were all safe. When we were able to speak directly to some residents, they clearly told us that they feared for their lives and that they were ready to become Islam solely to save their families." The Crisis Centre of the Catholic diocese of Ambon said that many people who escaped from Keswui and Teor reported that the militia had circumcised hundreds of men and some women, often using the same razor. Those bleeding too much were sent to the sea for "disinfection". The latest figures supplied by the Crisis Centre indicate that, of the 692 Catholics present on the Island of Keswui, at least 473 are still alive and have been converted to Islam. On Teor, of the 841 Catholics, 142 have been Islamised and 300 have managed to flee to the Island of Kei Kecil, while the other 400 are still holding out. On both islands several hundred Protestants of different denominations have suffered the same treatment. The Crisis centre said the governor of the Moluccas, Saleh Latuconsina, has admitted that the atrocities are taking place, and pledged to do his utmost to free and evacuate the Christians. However they are unsure that he has the power to help.
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