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Thousands of Catholic Children Kidnapped and Forced to Convert to Islam:
Thousands of Catholic children in East Timor, who were taken from their families over ten years ago, are being held by force in Indonesia, converted to Islam, educated in Islamic schools and naturalized. This is according to Vatican news agency Fides. Today, Fides said, most of these children live and go to school in Western Java and are taught by Muslim “educators” who refuse to let the children return to their families. Fides learnt the news from Indonesian Catholic sources and the situation was confirmed by some Catholic humanitarian workers who tried, without success, to return the children to their families in East Timor.
There were over 4000 children among the 250 thousand refugees who crossed the border into West Timor in 1999 during East Timor’s struggle for independence from Indonesia, in order to escape the violence of pro-Indonesia militiamen. At the time, Timorese families handed many of these children over to members of the army or to Indonesian humanitarian organisations as they were unable to provide for them. More than 1000 of these children have not been back to East Timor since and remain prisoners in Islamic colleges (pesantren as they are called) in Western Java. Some NGOs and representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Indonesia have tried to organise for them to return to their native country, but without success. A local source told Fides that some Timorese parents have traced their children but the people in charge of the colleges would not free them.
Fr. Benny Susetyo, Secretary of the Episcopal Commission for Interreligious Dialogue, said to 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 went on to say that: “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).”
He concluded saying that: “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.”