Indonesia forces lesbian couple to live apart

BANDA ACEH, Indonesia - Indonesian religious police said Thursday they had forced a lesbian couple to separate and placed them under surveillance, even though homosexuality is legal in the mainly Muslim country.

The Islamic police force unique to Aceh province, on the northern tip of Sumatra, warned the couple before they were forcibly separated that under Islamic law they could be beheaded.

"We told them that they must be beheaded and burned and their ashes must be thrown away to the sea. We are actually allowed by our religion to kill them," Southwest Aceh district religious police chief Muddatsir said.

Ranto, 26, and Nuraini, 18, now live in separate villages 36 kilometres (22 miles) apart, he said.

"We're monitoring them closely," he added.

A village chief has issued the couple an unofficial religious marriage contract in the mistaken belief that Ranto was a man, Muddatsir said.

"It's disgraceful what they've done. Even animals search for the opposite sex," the district religious police chief said.

The provincial parliament passed Islamic laws authorising the stoning to death of adulterers and the flogging of homosexuals in 2009 but the governor has not signed them into effect.

Liberals in the country of 240 million people say Aceh's sharia laws nevertheless encourage vigilantism and intolerance and are a flagrant breach the constitution.