9 Feb 2009

Claims simmering religious tension behind assault on Solomon Islands priest

4:30 pm on 9 February 2009

A church leader in Solomon Islands says an assault on an Anglican priest by a Muslim man is a result of simmering tensions between the two religious communities.

But the Muslim community and local authorities deny the claims, though police are continuing to monitor the situation.

Muslim leader, Jack Rade, faces charges of assaulting and threatening to decapitate Father James Utamaesia in December last year.

After a few months on the run, Mr Rade surrendered and appeared briefly in a Honiara court last Thursday facing the assault charge as well as fraud offences.

An Anglican Bishop Sam Sahu says darker intentions are behind the attack including forced conversions to the small Islamic group.

He says they are trying to convert by force with up to 50 people becoming Muslims.

But Musa bin Masran, leader of the Solomon Islands Ahmadiyya Muslim community, said the matter was a conflict of personalities not religions.

He says there is no simmering tensions between Islam and Christianity.