Meanwhile, a week of communal clashes between Muslims and Christians in adjacent central Sulawesi (Celebes) province left at least 20 dead and several others wounded. A police official in the Poso district told United Press International that the violence had spread to several villages in the region. Additional troops had been deployed from outside to help local security, he said.
In the Tobelo district, in the northern Moluccas, church leaders and Muslim residents estimated that at least 110 people were wounded in Monday's violence.
Rev. Hadi from the Evangelical Christian Church in Halmahera, said at least 52 Christians were killed when a group of Muslims militants, including those from the fundamentalist group Laskar Jihad, attacked the predominantly Christian villages of Makete and Duma in the Galela sub-district just before dawn on Monday.
Rev. Biso, also from the Evangelical Christian Church in Halmahera, said earlier that most of the victims were hurt or killed by shrapnel and gunshot wounds. A total of 254 houses and four churches were torched.
Other church workers said the Muslim attackers were using military rifles in addition to home-made explosives. They are also believed to be using military strategy to encircle the two villages--by sea, land and from the surrounding hills.
The chief of Moluccas' Pattimura military command, Brig. Gen. Max Tamaela, said the attack occurred at around 5 a.m. local time. He said a fresh batch of troops had been deployed to the strife-torn area. The two fighting sides were separated, he said.
"Security forces have been ordered to shoot at sight," the official Antara news agency quoted Tamaela as saying.
Tamaela said the attackers were mainly from Ternate, the capital of northern Moluccas province. He said the authorities were still investigating the role of the Laskar Jihad in the attacks.
Laskar Jihad--or "jihad warriors"--are militant Muslims from elsewhere in Indonesia, primarily Java, who have gone to the Moluccas in the past month to reinforce local Muslim militants. More thsan 2,000 are believed to have joined the fray.
Monday's attack at Galela was the second such incident in four days. Similar violence last Thursday killed at least 35 people and wounded more than 70 others.
The Moluccas islands, also known as the Spice Islands, have been ravaged by sectarian fighting between Muslims and Christians since early 1999. An estimated 3,000 people have died in the fighting.