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BosNewsLife (05/17/06) – Indian church leaders have launched an initiative to help end ethnic violence in northeastern India where hundreds of people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced, BosNewsLife established Wednesday May 17.

The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCAN) said “a sense of normalcy” has returned to Assam state’s Karbi Anglong district, the scene of recurrent communal clashes since 2003, following a peace conference hosted by Baptist, Catholic and Presbyterian Churches .

“We have been able to unite because of the help from the Churches,” 37-year-old Kuki Woman Leader Kim Touthang told UCAN news agency. “Normalcy is fast returning because the Church does not encourage revenge,” she was quoted as saying,

Four major conflicts involving ethnic Dimasa, Hmar, Karbi, Khasi and Kuki communities killed hundreds and displaced thousands of people from their farmlands and homes.

THOUSANDS DISPLACED

A clash between Karbi and Kuki communities in 2003 displaced 25,000 people, and a Dimasa-Karbi conflict in 2005 rendered more than 75,000 people homeless, news reports said. Karbi and Khasi people fought in 2004, and the Dimasa and Hmar communities in North Cachar district reportedly clashed in 2003.

“Many displaced people are still in relief camps,” Catholic Father Tom Mangattuthazhe, joint secretary of the Diphu Citizens Peace Forum, reportedly said. The conflicts, he claimed, become “more acute each time.”

About 60 representatives from the Dimasa, Karbi, Khasi and Kuki tribes and other groups including the Manipuri and Naga reportedly attended the peace conference, which was held at Diphu Catholic diocese’s social service center. Diphu town is approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) east of New Delhi .

“INTOLERANCE SPREAD”

Delegates said “intolerance has spread” across the region, “breeding aggressive fanaticism and interethnic rivalries.” In a statement released after the May 3 conference, church leaders stressed that, “Prejudices borne out of ignorance are the seeds of hostility and hatred.” It asserted that “respect” for others has become “not only a virtue but a condition for survival” in the region.

The churches also urged people to reject intolerance and expressed hope that political and religious leaders would use their authority to strengthen tolerance.

Teachers and parents should inculcate in children “the spirit of openness and respect for other peoples” as well as “the ideals of altruism, compassion and solidarity for all those who suffer from poverty, disease and illiteracy,” the statement added.

Hindus comprise about 64 percent of Assam ‘s 26.65 million people. Christians, spread among several denominations, number about 3.7 percent, according to Catholic estimates. Christians are also suffering as radical Hindu groups want to stop the spread of Christianity among tribals, who are often the lowest caste in India ‘s ancient system of Hinduism.