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JAKARTA (Reuters) - Men in black clothes and masks beheaded three teenage Christian girls on Saturday in eastern Indonesia as they walked to school near the Muslim town of Poso, officials said.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono condemned the killings, which he described as "sadist and inhuman crimes," and called an emergency security meeting with his vice-president, as well as military officials and police.

National police spokesman Aryanto Budiharjo said up to six men in black clothes and masks attacked the students in Bukit Bambu village, on the eastern island of Sulawesi.

"The perpetrators wore black attire and veils and they used machetes to slash (the victims)," he told reporters in Jakarta.

The three headless bodies of the high school students, dressed in brown uniforms, were left at the site of the attack. Three heads were found at separate locations two hours later by residents.

Earlier, a police official in Poso gave a different account, saying two men wearing helmets on a motorcycle attacked the 16-year-old students.

He said the student who escaped said the attackers wore helmets and carried a two-way radio.

Poso, 1,500 km (900 miles) northeast of the capital Jakarta, is in an area where Muslim-Christian clashes killed 2,000 people until a peace deal was agreed in 2001.

Although religious fighting has largely subsided, tension is still high in the region following bombings in the neighboring Christian town of Tentena which killed 22 people in May.

Security experts have said local Islamic radicals may have been responsible for the bombings in Tentena.

Budiharjo said around 400 policemen will be sent to reinforce security in Poso.

About 85 percent of Indonesia's 220 million people are Muslim. But in some eastern parts, Christian and Muslim populations are about equal.

In Jakarta, president Yudhoyono also called for calm and pledged to hunt down the attackers.

"I want to tell all my brothers and sisters in Poso that such violence cannot be tolerated, and the police with the military will make sure that it will not happen again."

"Peaceful" Islamic activities never seem to make it from the wire services to the mass media. This crap happens everyday. But if an American soldier even spills a cup of water on a muslim, then it is major news.
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