ASIA/INDONESIA - More than 1,000 Catholic children from East Timorese "stolen" and Islamized

Jakarta (Agenzia Fides) - A thousand Catholic children from East Timor, taken away from their families over ten years ago, are being held by force in Indonesia, converted to Islam, educated in Islamic colleges and nationalized. Today, most of them are in schools and shelters in the area of West Java, in the hands of Muslim "educators" who refuse to return them to their families. This is the story Fides learns from Indonesian Church sources, confirmed by some Catholics humanitarian workers who have tried to bring them back, without success, to their families of origin in East Timor
Among the 250 thousand refugees who in 1999, at the time of the war for the independence of East Timor from Indonesia, crossed the border towards West Timor, to escape the violence by pro-Indonesian militia, there were over 4,000 children. At the time many children were handed over to military members or Indonesian humanitarian organizations from Timorese families who could not support them. Over 1,000 of those children have never returned to East Timor and remain prisoners in Islamic colleges (the "pesantren") in West Java. Some NGOs and representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia have tried to organize their repatriation, without success. Some Timorese parents, a local source told Fides, have traced their children but those in charge at the colleges have not freed them.
Fr. Benny Susetyo, Secretary of the Episcopal Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, told Fides: "It is a very sad case, a patent abuse: as Commission we have raised the issue, along with other civil society organizations such as ' Kontras'. We have posed the problem to the Government, the United Nations, Muslim organizations, as a fundamental issue that touches human rights, the protection of children's rights, religious freedom ".
Fr. Susetyo’s analysis continues: "Cases like this show how the relationship between politics and religion have a serious impact on the freedom of citizens, especially on minorities. It is necessary to limit religious exploitation in politics. The area of West Java is one example: Muslim groups want to impose rules based on the sharia (Islamic law) ".
Furthermore, he concludes, "the main problems in East Timor, which is predominantly a Catholic nation, concerns excessive bureaucracy and corruption: two elements that affect not returning these children back to their families". (PA) (Agenzia Fides 07/02/2012)

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