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Chief Minister Agrees To Let Christians, NGOs Help Victims Of Orissa Violence

9/17/08 BHUBANESWAR, India (UCAN) — Orissa Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has agreed to allow Christian and other groups to help victims of sectarian violence in his eastern Indian state.

Patnaik made this promise to a delegation of religious minority groups that met him on Sept. 17 in the state capital of Bhubaneswar, 1,745 kilometers southeast of New Delhi.

The eight-member delegation that included some Protestant prelates told a press conference the chief minister agreed that Christian and other lawyers from outside the state could go to affected areas to help the victims file cases. He also promised to let Christian and other volunteer groups open relief camps in the affected areas.

The administration had earlier banned Christian and other groups from entering the areas but had let Hindu radical leaders in.

The delegation met the chief minister against the backdrop of continuing anti-Christian violence in Orissa.

Earlier in the day, some 300 Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Sikh representatives met in the city to demand security for Christians in Orissa. The meeting also called for peace and harmony in Orissa and selected the delegation to meet the chief minister

A day before the meetings, some 500 Hindu fanatics shot a policeman dead and torched a police station and four Christian houses in Orissa’s Kandhamal district, the worst affected area. Phulbani, the district headquarters, is 350 kilometers west of Bhubaneswar.

Violence erupted in Orissa on Aug. 24, a day after Maoists gunned down Hindu religious leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati and four associates. Hindu radical groups blame Christians for the murders and have since attacked the community. The 85-year-old Hindu leader, based in Kandhamal, which Cuttack-Bhubaneswar archdiocese covers, had for several decades opposed conversions to Christianity.

Church sources confirmed 32 deaths, mostly Christians, as the violence entered its fourth week. Four people were killed on Sept. 13 when security forces fired on a violent mob at Kurtamgarh village, 100 kilometers west of Phulbani.

Church sources told UCA News on Sept. 17 that they are verifying reports of 10 more deaths and that the violence has also destroyed 4,028 houses, 96 churches and 14 other Christian institutions in Orissa. About 23,000 people are now camped in 14 government relief camps and 400 others are staying in five private camps, the sources said.

Victims fleeing Kandhamal district told UCA News that women armed with sticks, knives, axes and iron rods have taken over the attacks on Christians and others supporting them.

Women reportedly outnumbered men in the mob that attacked a police station in Gochapada, 30 kilometers west of Phulbani, on Sept. 16. Seeing the mob, the few policemen at the station fled. However, the attackers gunned down a constable and torched several vehicles. The mob reportedly blocked all roads to Gochapada before the attack.

Later that day, Orissa’s Director General of Police Gopal Nanda told press persons in Bhubaneswar that the mob demanded the release of some people arrested earlier for rioting and arson.

Nanda warned the police would act firmly against the attackers. The administration has reportedly deployed additional forces in the area.

Also on Sept. 16, Hindu radical groups torched four Christian houses in Dokid village near G. Udayagiri town in Kandhamal, Roshananda Nayak told UCA News. The mob also torched the grocery shop Nayak, a Catholic, ran in the village.