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Wednesday, December 24, 1997 Published at 12:38 GMT



Despatches
image: [ BBC Correspondent: Jonathan Head ]Jonathan Head
Jakarta

An ecumenical church is Indonesia has been destroyed by a mob near the capital, Jakarta, according to church sources. This is the latest in a series of attacks on churches, which are being blamed on rising resentment among Indonesia's Muslim majority of the disproportionate wealth of many Christians. Last week, Jakarta's Roman Catholic cardinal asked Christians in the city to hold simple Christmas celebrations this year to avoid causing offence to Muslims, who have been affected by the country's economic crisis. Here's our Jakarta correspondent, Jonathan Head:

Father Cornelius Billy says his brand new church was reduced to ruins by a mob of 500 people wielding stones and iron bars. The church was deserted at the time and no-one was hurt.

He said the attackers were not local people, but he believed that his Muslim neighbours objected to the church, which had already been closed down because it lacked an official licence.

There have been a number of attacks on churches over the past two years. The worst incident in October last year left five people dead and 21 churches burnt to the ground.

Most observers believe the root cause of these attacks is more economic than religious. The fact that many of Indonesia's ethnic Chinese - who've long been resented for their perceived privileges - are also Christians makes the churches an easy target during a riot.

But the authorities are clearly worried that Indonesia's cherished reputation for religious tolerance is under threat.

The head of the State Intelligence Authority has just issued a warning against the rise of religious extremism - a reference to the small groups of radical Muslims who advocate an Islamic state in Indonesia.

With the country going through its worst economic crisis for 30 years, there are fears that inter-religious tensions will increase.

It was clearly with that in mind that the Roman Catholic cardinal of Jakarta asked Christians to scale down their Christmas celebrations.

He said the money would be better spent on helping those who are suffering in the current economic climate.





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