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The Jakarta Post – The killing of three schoolgirls in the Central Sulawesi town of Poso has raised concern among Christian and Muslim leaders, who called on their followers to remain calm so as to prevent a cycle of revenge from setting in. The religious figures believe that the latest violence to hit the town, where sectarian conflict killed some 2,000 people a few years ago, is aimed at fueling hatred between Muslims and Christians.

Chairman of the Indonesian Communion of Churches (PGI), Rev. Andreas Yewangoe, further asked President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono to immediately capture the perpetrators of the triple murder and discover the real motive behind the heinous crime.

“Why did the killings take place as both the Muslim and Christian communities were successfully improving their hostile relationship?” Yewangoe said to The Jakarta Post.

He dismissed speculation that religious motives were behind the murders. Three female students from a Christian senior high school were beheaded by unidentified assailants on Saturday. Another student survived the attack but suffered a stab wound to her face.

Yewangoe said some PGI officials would immediately visit Poso in a bid to calm down Christians and prevent them from taking revenge. He expected other religious leaders would follow suit. Muhammadiyah chairman Din Syamsuddin joined the chorus of condemnation against the killings, calling the assailants “atheists”.

“We strongly condemn the incident, and believe me that this has nothing to do with ties between Muslims and Christians,” Din told the Post.

He further asked the police to conduct a thorough investigation and take resolute action against the perpetrators, whom he said “really want to create instability and disharmony among religious adherents.

Noted Muslim figure Abdurrahman “Gus Dur” Wahid also denounced the violence.

“The murders were perpetrated by heartless people. No religion teaches us to kill our brothers and sisters,” former president Gus Dur said.

Yewangoe recalled the promise made by Susilo to religious leaders ahead of last year’s presidential election that he would pay more attention to the sporadic sectarian violence nationwide.

“I remember that it was during a meeting on Aug. 23 last year that I reminded Pak Susilo that weak law enforcement was the key problem to dealing with escalating tension among religious adherents in this country. We asked him to address the issue accordingly after he won the election.

“Like other religious leaders, I think we’ve done enough by coming down to the field to calm people. But now that violence has continued to occur, there is no other way to stop it but to impose stiff legal sanctions against the perpetrators,” he said.

Poso has been the scene of sporadic violence since a formal peace was signed to end bloody sectarian conflict in December 2001. The government has blamed the violence on terrorist groups.

Religious harmony in the world’s most populous Muslim country has been put to the test following the recent closure of dozens of Christian houses of worship. The government is currently revising an old decree that is deemed discriminatory by non-Muslims.