updated 9/18/2006 10:08:37 PM ET 2006-09-19T02:08:37

Three Christians convicted for their roles in deadly attacks on Muslims in 2000 in central Indonesia will be executed on Thursday, media reports quoted the men's lawyer as saying.

Attorney Roy Bening said the men had received a letter from prosecutors stating they would be shot by firing squad on Sept. 21 in Palu on the island of Sulawesi, Media Indonesia and other media reported Tuesday.

The three, who maintain they are innocent, were scheduled to be killed in August, but were granted a last-minute reprieve amid protests by Christian groups and an appeal for clemency by the pope.

Authorities were not immediately available for comment.

Fabianus Tibo, Marinus Riwu and Dominggus da Silva were found guilty of leading a Christian militia that launched a series of attacks on Muslims in May 2000 on Sulawesi — including a gun and machete assault that killed at least 70 people who had taken refuge in an Islamic school.

The incident was one of the bloodiest in two years of fighting between Muslim and Christian gangs that killed at least 1,000 people from both faiths and left tens of thousand homeless.

Only a handful of people have been convicted in the violence, and the three Christians are the only ones to be sentenced to death. Investigations into the bloodshed, which ended after a government-sponsored peace deal, appear to have ended.

Local Islamic hard-liners are calling for the three men to be executed.

But Christian groups say the men — uneducated farmers originally not from Sulawesi island —are being made scapegoats.

Amnesty International has raised doubts about the fairness of the men's' trials.

Three Muslim militants are also on death row for their roles in the 2002 Bali nightclub bombings.

Analysts have said that the government in the world's most populous Islamic nation would find it politically difficult to pardon the Christians while pressing ahead with the executions of the Muslims.

More than 80 percent of Indonesia's 220 million people are Muslims, but there are significant Christian minorities. In Sulawesi and some other eastern regions, Christian and Muslim populations are roughly equal.

Indonesia has executed at least five people since 2000 for various crimes, mostly drugs offenses.

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