Fri, 11 Jun 2004

Catholic church bombed in Yogya

Slamet Susanto, Sleman

Unidentified men threw Molotov cocktails at a Roman Catholic church in the tourist city of Yogyakarta, slightly damaging the building's door, police said on Thursday.

No injuries were reported as the blast took place early on Wednesday and the church was empty at the time of the incident.

Police were unable to identify the assailants or the motive behind the bombing, the latest attack against Christian places of worship in the country.

The Santo Yosep Roman Catholic Church in Sleman regency, built in 1981, was cordoned off by police, while security forces stood by.

The attack caused a small fire that burned part of the church's main gate and the front part of the wall.

On-duty church officer Anastasia Surajilah, 64, said the Molotov cocktails were probably thrown at around 3 a.m.

"At that time several residents whose homes are adjacent to the church heard two explosions. But because it was still dark, none of them went out to check what had happened," she said.

She said the damage was discovered 12 hours later, when women held a gathering at the church at around 3 p.m. and found pieces of glass in the church yard.

Surajilah said church leader Amir Dwijo Suryanto then immediately reported the incident to the Minggir Police precinct. However, police officers refused to disclose it to the press until Thursday.

Police said they found broken bottles with kerosene-soaked rags close to the church's door, which was slightly damaged by fire.

Yogyakarta Police chief Brig. Gen. Sudirman said a team of officers were investigating the church attack to find the perpetrators and their motives behind it.

"So far we are still investigating and we don't know yet if it was related to the July 5 presidential election," he told The Jakarta Post.

However, he believes the attack was not connected with ongoing religious violence in several parts of the country.

Sudirman said the police have increased security at strategic sites and public places to prevent more attacks ahead of the presidential election.

Yogyakarta Governor Sri Sultan Hamengkubuwono X said the attack was an attempt by "irresponsible people" to provoke violence in the tourist city.

He said he would meet the provincial police chief to learn what really happened and to discuss efforts to prevent more violence.

"I hope the people of Yogyakarta will not be provoked. If they do not respond, there will be no negative repercussions," the sultan said.

The governor, who is also the sultan of Yogyakarta, warned local people against being provoked by similar acts of violence ahead of the presidential election.

Yogyakarta is an ancient court city, 400 kilometers east of Jakarta. The ancient Buddhist monument of Borobudur and the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan are a short drive from the city.

Mobs attacked one church and three houses that had been converted into churches on Sunday in two neighboring suburbs of Jakarta, injuring one priest and causing minor damage to the properties.

The attacks were reportedly prompted by anger of local residents over the churches' failure to obtain permits as places of worship.

In the past, such unauthorized churches have been a target of attacks in the predominantly Muslim country. However, Islam is not the state religion and the 1945 Constitution guarantees freedom of belief.