Jakarta - The Indonesian town of Poso, in central Sulawesi, is once again bracing for a fresh round of communal bloodletting following the brutal beheading of three teenage Christian girls on Oct 29. A prominent Christian leader described the beheadings - which occurred as Poso is still struggling to recover fully from two years of Christian-Muslim battles - as a "provocation for another war".
National police spokesman Aryanto Budiharjo said up to six men in black clothes and masks attacked a group of students as they were on their way to class at the Central Sulawesi Christian Church high school in Poso.
"The perpetrators wore black attire and veils and they used machetes," he said.
One girl managed to escape the attack but suffered wounds to her face. The bodies of the three victims were left at the site of the attack near a cocoa plantation. Their heads were found at separate locations.
As tensions ran high, a high-ranking team of officials from Jakarta arrived in Poso on Oct 30 to try to calm outraged residents.
Security was also beefed up in the small town, with about 1,000 policemen, including reinforcements from other parts of the country, deployed to secure the area.
Religious leaders have warned that more violence could be expected if police fail to catch the murderers.
Mr Din Syamsuddin, chairman of Indonesia's second-largest Muslim group, Muhammadiyah, said: "Similar murders are likely to occur in the future because there are some parties wishing communal conflict to flare up."
Reverend Arnold Tobondo, a prominent Christian leader in Sulawesi, said: "This is provocation for another war."
Indeed, the Media Indonesia, in an editorial noted that it was no coincidence that the beheadings occurred just days before Nov 3, when Muslims around the world will celebrate Idul Fitri to mark the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan.
"The killings, which occurred near Idul Fitri, were certainly a calculated move. Their choice of victims - students from a Christian high school - was deliberate. Idul Fitri and a Christian school are key symbols for those who are bent on provocation and are out to destroy religious harmony," the newspaper said.
Central Sulawesi was hit by a bloody sectarian war from 2000 to 2002 that killed around 1,000 people. The conflict ended in early 2002 following a truce, which was mediated by a government team led by Vice-President Jusuf Kalla. However, sporadic bomb attacks and assassinations continue to occur in several areas of Sulawesi.
* Violation in Poso near Idul Fitri (Media Indonesia, Oct 31)
* Tense mood as fear of reprisals spreads (The Straits Times, Oct 31)
* Three school girls beheaded near Poso (The Jakarta Post, Oct 30)