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5,000 Christians still in Kandhamal refugee camps
Published on 13 Feb. 2009 12:27 AM IST
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Fear still stalks the 5,000 people in refugee camps in Orissa’s Kandhamal district who had taken shelter there after anti-Christian violence drove them out of their homes, says a priest, pointing out that paramilitary forces were being withdrawn from the area. “Most of the people hesitate to move back to their homes in the villages as the threat still prevails there. Moreover, they have nothing left, as everything was destroyed in the riots,” said Reverend Joseph Kalathil, vicar general of the Cuttack-Bhubaneswar Arch-Diocese. The camps located in the cities have almost been closed. And now people are living in the camps in the riot-affected villages, the priest said. He, however, said those who reconverted to Hinduism have been able to go back home. “About 15 percent Christian people have re-converted and they were able to return to their homes,” Kalathil told IANS on phone from Bhubaneswar. Kandhamal was ravaged by anti-Christian violence following the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides Aug 23, 2008. While police blamed Maoists for the killings, some Hindu organisations held Christians responsible for the crime and launched attacks on the community. Christian organisations have repeatedly denied their involvement in the murder. At least 38 people were killed and thousands of Christians were forced to flee their homes after their houses were attacked by rampaging mobs. The church also expressed its anguish over the central government’s decision to withdraw the paramilitary Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) in a phased manner. The withdrawal of the forces started Jan 15, nine days after the Supreme Court bench of Chief Justice K.G. Balakrishnan, Justice Markandey Katju and Justice P. Sathasivam said the central and state governments should “ensure the minority’s safety”. “People feel some security because of the presence of the CRPF and the Rapid Action Force (RAF). If they are withdrawn completely, we fear, the situation will get worse,” Kalathil said. The state police are not capable of dealing with the situation, he said. Fifty-three companies of CRPF and RAF were deployed in Orissa. The priest said though the district collector and other state officials are “doing their best” for rehabilitation and security, they were not able to hold holy mass on Sundays. Officials claim that the relatives of 40 riot victims have been given compensation of Rs.200,000 by the state and the kin of 10 victims have been given Rs.300,000 by the central government. People who return to their homes have been given Rs.10,000 each to re-construct their houses, the officials added.

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