Indonesia deploys troops to calm religious unrest in Aceh province

Indonesian security forces inspecting the scene of a burned Church in Aceh Singkil on Oct 14.
Indonesian security forces inspecting the scene of a burned Church in Aceh Singkil on Oct 14.PHOTO: EPA

JAKARTA (REUTERS) - Indonesia deployed security personnel on Thursday (Oct 15) to calm unrest in its northern Aceh province after a mob burnt down churches and killed one person in religious violence this week.

Indonesia has the world's largest Muslim population, the majority of which practises a moderate form of Islam. Aceh is the most conservative province in the country and the only one to abide by Islamic Sharia law.

"The situation in Aceh Singkil is calm now and under control," national police spokesman Agus Rianto told Reuters by telephone, referring to the district where the attack took place.

"We are carrying out patrols in the area with the help of military troops," Rianto added, declining to comment on the total number of personnel that had been deployed.

Rianto denied reports that thousands of people had evacuated Aceh Singkil in the wake of the attack on Tuesday.

Police said 20 people had been arrested from a mob of around 500 that had burned down churches and threatened Christians, local media reported.

President Joko Widodo called for a stop to the violence on Wednesday. "Violence motivated by anything, especially religion and belief, damages diversity," he said on microblogging website Twitter.

Aceh was granted special regional autonomy as part of a 2005 peace agreement ending a three-decade old separatist insurgency, which allowed it to implement Sharia law, putting it at odds with the rest of the country.