Thousands of Christians in the Moluccan islands of eastern Indonesia have been forced by Islamic militants to convert to Islam or be killed. Disturbing reports by Moluccan Christian human rights group the Masariku network indicate that thousands of Christians in Bacan in northern Moluccas have been forced to change their religion to Islam. In a letter dated 3 September this year, one of the church leaders from Bacan reported that, two weeks beforehand, 1,150 Christian youths and children were circumcised as part of their forced conversion (under the tenets of the Islamic religion, Muslim males have to be circumcised). Thousands have been forcibly converted to Islam and an ultimatum has been given that those Christians who do not convert by 31 December this year will be killed. One of the Christian pastors in Bacan, Rev Pattiasina, was caught by Islamic militants who tortured and killed him. Since 5 July, 60 Christian families in Jibubu village were forced to convert to Islam. This took place after they were forced to leave their hiding places in the forest because of lack of food. The letter from the Christian leader appeals for prayers and support from Christians around the world and to pray for Christians in Bacan that they may overcome these difficulties and that Christianity will continue to survive in that area. Forced conversions have been taking place in other parts of the Moluccas as well. In West Seram, about 400 Christians from Hatu village and 300 from Hatumete were told by Islamic militants that they had until 31 November 2000 to convert to Islam or be killed. It is estimated that 75 per cent of the 700 Christians have already signed agreements to change their religion. Those who have agreed are forced to learn the Muslim holy book, the Koran, and perform the Islamic prayers five times a day. Those who have refused to change religion have no choice but to flee into the forests to hide, where they run the risk of dying from starvation or exposure. Since January 1999, Muslim-Christian conflict in the Moluccas has resulted in about 5,000 deaths and 300,000 people being internally displaced. With the influx of thousands of Islamic militants from outside the Moluccas and the collusion of elements of the Indonesian military, the Muslims have managed to capture many Christian areas where they have often told the Christians under their control to convert to Islam or be killed. Recently there have been repeated Muslim attacks against remaining pockets of Christians in Ambon island and in Halmahera. This appears to be an attempt to exterminate what's left of the Christian presence in these areas. Christians in Halmahera and Ambon are worried about a possible large Muslim offensive around Christmas. This follows threats by Islamic militants that there will be no church bells ringing on Christmas day. In anticipation of such an attack, Christians in Halmahera are celebrating Christmas earlier this year. Jubilee Campaign has been campaigning for UN peacekeepers to be sent to the Moluccas and for the British government to impose an arms embargo on Indonesia until a just peace is brought about in the Moluccas. Wilfred Wong, Jubilee Campaign's parliamentary officer, said: "The situation for Christians in the Moluccas is simply appalling. The Islamic militants are determined to kill, forcibly convert or drive out all the Moluccan Christians, thereby wiping out the Christian community in the Moluccas islands. The Indonesian military is generally colluding with these militants and does nothing to stop these mass forced conversions. If the Islamic fighters succeed in Islamicising the Moluccas by force, they are likely to use these ruthless tactics in other Indonesian provinces with large Christian communities, such as North Sulawesi or West Timor, since their ultimate goal is to Islamicise Indonesia as a whole. The Christians of the Moluccas are being put through a trial by fire and really need our prayers and action." If you would like to take action to help Moluccan Christians, write to: Wilfred Wong, c/o Ian Bruce MP, Room 201, Norman Shaw South, Victoria Embankment, London SW1A 2HZ.
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