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Indonesia Set to Execute Three Christian Militants


Three Christian militants sentenced to death for killing Muslims during sectarian violence that shook Indonesia's Sulawesi island six years ago may be executed this month. Supporters of the three men say they are not guilty, and are being used as scapegoats.

The three Indonesian Catholic men, Fabianus Tibo, Dominggus de Silva and Marinus Riwu, were convicted of killing Muslims during Muslim-Christian clashes in the central Sulawesi town of Poso in 2000.

The men have exhausted most avenues to stop their execution, two higher courts and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono have rejected their appeals.

But the chief attorney for the three men, Stefanus Roy Rening, says they are still waiting for a reply from Mr. Yudhoyono on a second clemency appeal, filed last month.

He says all three men are innocent and being used as scapegoats in an unfair justice system. He also says the three are not the masterminds of the Poso violence, which is why they should not be executed.

The men are convicted of a massacre of more than 200 unarmed people, mostly women, children and students, who were shot and hacked to death while hiding in a Muslim school. It was one of the worst incidents in the clashes between Muslims and Christians that claimed more than 1,000 lives.

But the three deny being at the scene of the killings, and police are investigating 16 other men as the real masterminds of the massacre.

The issue has split many in the Muslim community, which makes up more than 90-percent of the Indonesian population. Some want to see the three live long enough to testify in the case of the 16, while others believe they should die.

In the Christian community, support for the three runs high. International Christian organizations have flooded the attorney general's office with appeals for them.

Sidney Jones, from the International Crisis Group, says this has led some in the government to ask why there has been such an outcry against the death penalty for these three men, when there was no outcry for the death sentences given to Muslim militants, convicted of a series of bombings in Indonesia.

"Why is it that, in this case, the three people who are facing imminent execution have generated such an outpouring of support from around the world? The implication is, because they are Christian, while the bombers of Bali and of the Australian Embassy were Muslims," Jones said.

Catholic leader Theophilus Belo says, many people, both Christian and Muslim, fear the executions will stir up more violence.

"If the three people will be executed, then there will be tension again between the Christian and the Muslim community," Belo said.

A spokesman for the attorney general's office says the executions will be carried out this month.

While a government-mediated truce has been in place in central Sulawesi since 2001, sporadic bombings and other attacks still take place, most of them targeting Christians.