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Freedom Fighters Call for Int'l Solidarity Amid Orissa Violence

NEW DELHI – Human Rights Watch, Christian Solidarity Network, Dalit Freedom Network and the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty have appealed to foreign ministers in the European Union and the United States to immediately call for an end to the sectarian violence in India's Orissa state.

"International statements of concern are urgently needed to express solidarity with the victims, to help forestall yet more violence and to prevent the further loss of life," stated a letter sent to the European Commissioner for External Relations, the Foreign Ministers of French, European Affairs, the British Foreign Secretary, and the United States.

"We therefore request that you make a statement to call for an end to the sectarian violence and for the protection of vulnerable communities as soon as possible," it added.

Violence has rocked Orissa state since the killing of a Hindu leader last week. Though police blamed Maoist rebels for the assassination, Subhash Chauhan, a World Hindu Organization leader, accused "Christian militants" in the death.

In apparent retaliation, Hindu hard-liners set ablaze a Christian orphanage last Monday, killing a Christian woman and seriously injuring a priest. The violence has since spread to include mob attacks on churches, shops and homes.

Calling for immediate intervention, the authors of the recent letter condemned the murder of Hindu religious leader Swami Laxmmananada Saraswati, whose death set off the latest violence in Orissa.

"The fact that Christians have been made the scapegoats and victims of a VHP (World Hindu Council) backlash is deplorable," the freedom fighters stated in their letter. The Church in India and abroad has also succinctly declared that it is against violence of any sort and has condemned the murder of the prominent Hindu leader.

Orissa, located on the east coast of India, has a long history of Hindu-Christian clashes, usually sparked by Hindu suspicions over missionary work.

Thousands of poor and lower caste Hindus have converted to other religions, including Christianity, often in an attempt to escape the rigid confines of Hinduism's complex caste system.

That has long embittered Hindu groups who accuse Christian missionaries of luring the poor and those on the lowest rungs away with promises of money and jobs.

Last year, four people were killed and nearly 20 churches destroyed in similar clashes in Orissa.

The recent violence spurred by the death of Saraswati and four others has benumbed the peace-loving Christian community, forcing thousands to abandon their homes and flee to forests.

"More than 20,000 Christians have fled from their houses," reported the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC), citing from its sources.

"Old, infirm, women and children have left their villages," the group added.

According to sources, the worst affected area is the Baliguda sub-division, where more than 500 houses have been burnt and churches torched.

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