Tension remained high in the East Java town of Situbondo yesterday as Muslim leaders expressed regret over Islamic riots there which left five people dead and reduced 21 churches to ashes. 'The Christians in Situbondo are living in fear,' the regional bishop, Monsignor Herman Josef Pandoyo Putra O Carn, said. 'I'm going there to help bolster their spirits and ask the local police and military chiefs to provide protection for the Catholic community.' He said he had planned an earlier visit to the city, on Java's north coast about 600 kilometres east of Jakarta, but had postponed it for fear of provoking further violence. 'A lot of people have warned against it [the visit] - they're worried because the tension is still high,' Bishop Pandoyo Putra said. The town in Indonesia's Islamic stronghold of East Java erupted in anger over the trial of a member of an Islamic sect charged with blasphemy. Newspapers said the sect member, identified as Saleh, was given a five-year jail term for alleging among other things, that the Prophet Muhammad was not God's messenger and that Muslims did not have to pray five times a day. The masses reportedly considered the sentence too light, sparking the rioting. Five Catholic schools, a Christian orphanage, two plazas, a court building, three cars and five motorcycles were also set alight. Muslim leaders yesterday urged restraint and warned of the dangers of inter-religious and ethnic conflict. 'The turmoil caused by religious conflict is always totally out of control,' said Amien Rais, the head of the reputedly 28-million-strong Muhammidiyah Islamic group. 'Christians in Situbondo were the wrong target,' he said. However, he said the problem was not random violence, but clandestine elements who politicised religion for their own ends. 'The way it happened was so systematic, so organised - it was inspired and directed by a certain group of people,' Mr Rais said. He would not comment on who was behind the violence, but he said it could be aimed at destabilising President Suharto ahead of elections next year. Bishop Pandoyo Putra, meanwhile, said Indonesia's closed culture did not encourage religious debate, allowing tensions to simmer. 'Why were the Christians targeted when their relationship with local Muslim leaders is good?' the bishop said. 'Solidarity among religions is still only an expression here.'