Muslim mobs hunt Christians on resort island of Lombok

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The Independent Online

Hundreds of tourists and expatriates were evacuated yesterday as the religious violence sweeping Indonesia enveloped the resort island of Lombok.

Hundreds of tourists and expatriates were evacuated yesterday as the religious violence sweeping Indonesia enveloped the resort island of Lombok.

Tourists were saved from a mob last night by Indonesian soldiers who had been rushed to the holiday area of Senggigi beach as angry Muslims closed on a hotel.

Australian diplomats had reported the imminent attack to their embassy in the capital, Jakarta, which contacted military authorities. Early today soldiers still ringed the resort, where a few tourists remain.

In the main town of Mataram, one person was killed and two seriously injured when crowds of angry Muslims burnt churches and hunted Christians. Foreign diplomats saw cars and buildings burnt out, and embassies advised their nationals not to travel to Lombok, immediately east of the holiday island of Bali.

"The damage is huge," said one foreign official. "All 11 churches on the west side of Lombok have been burnt. There are burnt-out cars, and burnt shops and houses. There has been more looting." A thousand extra police and soldiers were said to have been sent in.

In Mataram, 12 people were arrested from a mob who smashed and looted a house. "This is the home of a wealthy Chinese Christian family," one attacker was reported as saying. "We are all poor Muslim people. We are the real people of Lombok."

Heavy rain extinguished most fires yesterday, but police fired warning shots to drive away a gang of Muslims threatening to overrun a police station where Christians had taken shelter, most of them ethnic Chinese.

The chaos of the past two days raises the nightmarish prospect that after a year of slaughter in the remote Indonesian Spice Islands, religious violence is spreading through the archipelago.

The terror on Lombok began on Monday, when crowds of Muslims gathered to protest against the violence. Unknown thousands have been killed in the past three weeks alone in battles between Muslims and Christians in the islands.

Similar demonstrations have straddled Indonesia, 90 per cent of whose 220 million people are Muslims. Maluku province, as the Spice Islands are officially called, is unique in having a large Christian minority, and Islamic groups have mobilised their supporters in calls for a jihad, or holy war, to "liberate" the Muslims.

Monday's rally in Lombok was abruptly cancelled just as news came of a massacre in Maluku where 216 Muslims had been killed by Christians in a mosque earlier this month. The crowd turned to the churches in a rampage of arson.

Since the Indonesian dictator, President Suharto, resigned in 1998, there have been countless riots all over Indonesia, although the introduction of a religious element in a dominantly Muslim nation introduces a new element of danger. In East Java, hundreds of people have been lynched and dismembered for the alleged practice of black magic. On the Indonesian island of Bintan, close to Singapore, villagers armed with machetes, spears and bows and arrows are demanding fair payment for land taken by developers to build resort hotels.

The news from Lombok drove down shares on the Jakarta Stock Exchange by 2.5 per cent. "These riots could well lead to the destruction of the country's international credibility," said the Muslim leader, Nurcholis Madjid. "The government has been too slow [in reacting to the violence]."

Almost all the island's few hundred foreign residents, mostly Australian gold and copper miners, fled by boat to Bali.