Apriadi GunawanThe Jakarta Post ,  Medan   |  Mon, 01/25/2010 9:53 AM  |  Headlines

Security was restored Sunday after two Protestant churches and a pastor’s house were set on fire allegedly by a Muslim mob in Sibuhuan, Padang Lawas regency, North Sumatra.

This is reportedly the first time such attacks have happened in the history of North Sumatra, where significant Muslim and Christian communities live alongside each other.

Two unregistered churches  were burned down last Friday night by   about 1,000 people in Sibuhuan. The attack was the culmination of tensions between Muslims and Christians over the latter’s use of buildings not registered as churches.

North Sumatra Police spokesman Sr. Comr. Baharuddin Djafar said Sunday the attack caused no fatalities, and hundreds of Christians fled.

However, two days after the arson attack, none of the attackers have been arrested by the police.

“We are still investigating the case. We have yet to be able to identify the perpetrators as the burning  of the HKBP and GPdI churches were carried out en masse,” Baharuddin told The Jakarta Post.

The leader of HKBP District I overseeing South Tapanuli and West Sumatra, pastor Marolop Sinaga, said at least 272 of his congregation at the HKBP Sibuhuan Resort Sion Nauli Ujungbatu Sosa fled their homes to avoid possible attacks.

He also expressed hope that the local authorities could restore peace and guarantee that his congregation would be able to worship securely and freely.

A police interim investigation, according to Baharuddin, revealed the burnings were incited by local residents angered that church managements failed to show  licenses to set up local churches since 1982.

The residents, he added, had repeatedly warned the managements not to go ahead with establishing the two churches in the middle of the majority Muslim communities.

Baharuddin said there been an agreement in 1992 between the locals and the church administrators, stating that the development of the churches would not be continued.

But the agreement was violated and the churches kept continuing activities and worship, he said.
“Last Friday the managements actually were asked to dismantle the buildings used as places of worship but this was not done, so the mob spontaneously burned the two churches,” Baharuddin said.

The case has been discussed by the Padang Lawas administration, local agencies and religious leaders.

“They agreed that all the financial losses caused by the attacks will be  covered and that neutral locations would be provided for Christians to rebuild the churches,” he said, adding that a follow-up meeting is scheduled for Monday.

Padang Lawas Regent Basyrah Lubis said his administration would facilitate the issuance of permits to rebuild the two churches.

He also called on the people to maintain peace and mutual respect among followers of different faiths. “Just don’t be afraid. We guarantee that no such incident will happen again,” he said, while calling on the fleeing victims to return home.