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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 26 February, 2003, 14:50 GMT
First Sharia court for Aceh
Acehnese girls in traditional Muslim dress
The mainly Muslim province was involved in civil conflict with Jakarta
Indonesia's troubled Aceh province is to establish the country's first criminal court based on Sharia law, an official said on Wednesday.

Indonesia already has religious courts which handle disputes about marriage or inheritance, but not criminal cases.

But as part of Jakarta's peace settlement with pro-independence rebels in Aceh, the province has been granted the right to partially implement its own laws, allowing those found guilty to be punished under Islamic regulations.

The peace settlement - which also gives the province a number of other concessions - was designed to bring an end to more than three decades of civil war.

Aceh's first Sharia court is due to open on 4 March.

"The inauguration is planned to coincide with the Islamic New Year," said Sofyan M Saleh, chief of the Aceh High Religious Court.

Sharia law calls for the caning of Muslims who propagate beliefs other than Islam or fail to attend Friday prayers three times in a row.

In some countries, sentences include death by stoning for adultery and amputating hands for theft, but religious leaders in Aceh have indicated that these penalties might not apply in Indonesia.

A small number of Acehnese are Christians or members of other religious groups. They will still be tried in standard secular courts.

Some conservative Muslim groups want Sharia law to be implemented in the rest of Indonesia, but officials say there are no current plans to do this.

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