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Beheaders in Indonesia Face Death Penalty


The trial has begun of three Muslim men accused of beheading three Christian schoolgirls in Indonesia's volatile regency of Poso in the province of Central Sulawesi.

The three men, Hasanuddin, Lilik Purnomo, and Irwanto Irano, all face the death penalty under Indonesia's anti-terrorism law if convicted of beheading the three schoolgirls in October 2005.

Police say the girls, all from Poso in Central Sulawesi, were walking home from school when they were attacked by machete-wielding masked men dressed in black. Two of the heads were found near a police outpost and the third was left near a Christian church.

Theophilus Bela, a Christian from Poso who heads the Indonesia Community on Religion for Peace, says the fact the trial is being held in Jakarta means the men should get a fair trial.

He says if the trial had been held in Poso, judges, lawyers, and witnesses may have been harassed and intimidated.

Poso has been the scene of sporadic violence between Christians and Muslims since the two sides signed a peace agreement in 2001 that ended nearly two years of clashes that claimed at least 1,000 lives.

While the majority of Indonesians are Muslims, in Poso, roughly half the population is Christian.

Tensions flared anew last month after the execution of three Christians convicted of leading an attack six years ago on an Islamic school that killed 70 people. Muslim and Christian observers said they believed those executed had not masterminded the attacks and did not receive a fair trial because it was held in Poso in an atmosphere of intimidation.

Ken Conboy, a security expert and author of numerous books on terrorism, says the problem in Poso is that the authorities have yet to go after those behind the violence.

"Everybody up there knows exactly who is behind it. It's just you have to get the political will to actually go and get the real guys that are pulling the strings, not just the guys from way down in the food chain," he said.

The beheadings of the schoolgirls shocked Indonesians and President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyno strongly condemned the murders.