Abductors attempt to steal funds donated for church reconstruction.
Special to Compass Direct
JAKARTA, December 13 (Compass) — Villagers on a small Indonesian island who recently joined a search for their missing pastor found only a red T-shirt with three bullet holes in it, lying on the beach near his home.
At press time, Rev. Jarok Ratu, 35, of Labuang village, Namrole district, Buru island, was still missing — 10 days after a group of unidentified men kidnapped him in the early hours of December 3.
Ratu pastored the local Pentecostal Church of Indonesia (GPdI).
A spokesman from headquarters of the Kepolisian Daerah Maluku, a police unit in Ambon which controls Maluku and North Maluku provinces, said police were questioning a suspect who knew about the kidnapping, the Sinar Harapan newspaper reported.
The suspect was arrested at 2 a.m. last Friday. Plans were immediately made to transfer the man by boat to nearby Ambon island for further investigation.
Police have so far refused to identify the suspect by name. “We have a suspicion that he is one of the perpetrators,” said Major Endro Prasetyo, a spokesman from provincial police headquarters.
According to Prasetyo, police have questioned at least five witnesses in relation to the kidnapping. Authorities have also sent four detectives to Buru island to investigate the case.
The Mayor of Buru island, Husni Hentihu, told reporters he had assigned a special investigative team to work on the kidnapping.
Rev. Henry Lolaen, head of GPdI for Maluku province, said members of Ratu’s church had searched for their pastor the day after the kidnapping, but found only the red T-shirt Ratu was wearing. There were three bullet holes in the front of the T-shirt but no bloodstains.
Mrs. Ratu said her husband was taken away by speedboat. She did not see the speedboat because it was very dark that night, but she heard the sound of the engine.
She said eight men had arrived at the door at around 2 a.m., wearing masks and carrying a gun. They knocked on the door and when it was opened, pointed the gun at Ratu and his wife and asked for money.
Lolaen explained that Ratu had just received a significant donation from the Governor of Maluku province, the Mayor of Buru island, and a number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), for the construction of a new church building. The total amount of the donation was around 10,000,000 rupiah ($1,086).
Other churches in the Malukus have also received funding for construction of new buildings or to repair damaged buildings.
“There is a possibility that the kidnapping was related to these funds,” said Lolaen.
According to the Sinar Harapan report, Ratu told the intruders that he had already deposited the funds in two bank accounts, at Bank Mandiri and the Bank Negara Indonesia. The intruders asked for the two bank deposit books, which were later found lying on the ground in Labuan village.
The kidnappers then took Ratu with them, telling his wife they would only “borrow him” and that they intended to release him.
A report from the Komintra News agency said the kidnapping might be related to sectarian violence that broke out in the area two years ago. The majority of residents in Namrole district are Muslims, while approximately 25 percent are Christians.
A foreign NGO reported on December 3 that there were once many churches on the island. Now only three remain: an Alliance church, an Assembly of God church and Ratu’s Pentecostal church.
An independent source in Ambon confirmed that Labuang is one of the few villages on Buru island that still has its own church. Labuang is sandwiched between two Muslim villages and is also a port village, where ferries and fishing boats stop frequently to load and unload cargo.
Meanwhile, a report from the Crisis Center Diocese of Amboina on December 4 said fighting had broken out between two Muslim villages in northern Ambon island on December 1, resulting in the death by stabbing of Ismael Wael from Wakal village and injuries to four other people.
Residents of Wakal then took revenge by attacking the village of Mamua on December 2, burning 15 houses and destroying several dozen more. A second attack by a group of masked men who attempted to invade Wakal village from the beach was thwarted by a mobile police brigade.
The Crisis Center pointed out that sectarian clashes from 1999 to 2002 have left their mark on the Maluku islands. People now resort far more readily to violence whenever conflict arises.