Hundreds still hiding in forests of violence-scarred Kandhamal

January 2nd, 2009 - 4:44 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Jan 2 (IANS) Hundreds of people are still hiding in the forests of Orissa’s volatile Kandhamal district since August although the communal conflict that erupted in the aftermath of a Hindu leader’s murder subsided in October, an official said Friday.”Hundreds of tribals haven’t returned home after the riots. Most of them are Hindus. They are hiding in the forest for fear of police action,” district collector Krishan Kumar told IANS by phone.

The people hiding in forests are mainly from the Gadaguda and Sirsapanga areas. They fled from their homes after riots erupted in the region following the murder of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his aides at his ashram on Aug 23.

“The tribals had recently visited their villages but fled to the forest again. We are trying to reach them,” Kumar said.

At least 38 people were killed and thousands others were forced to flee their homes in Kandhamal district, about 200 km from here, after they were attacked by rampaging Hindu mobs who accused Christians of having killed Saraswati.

District authorities said there has been no violence since October and the situation is normal. But about 8,000 Christians are still living in six government-run relief camps and do not want to go back home for fear of being attacked.

“Besides those living in relief camps in the district, around 15,000 Christians are living outside Kandhamal and are scared of returning home because many of the rioters are still at large and the police are not arresting them,” said Sajan K. George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians.

Leaders of some Hindu groups say as many as 12,000 members of the community are hiding in forests for fear of the police since about 100,000 of Kandhamal’s nearly 600,000 residents have been charged with rioting.

“The number of Hindus hiding in the forest would be around 12,000,” said Ashok Sahu, a Hindu leader.

“There is ample evidence to show that police is implicating tribal Hindus in false cases,” he alleged.

While 10,000 people were named in the first information report lodged in various police stations in the region, police are struggling to ascertain the identity of others.

“It is a big challenge for the police to identify all people charged with rioting and arson,” a police official said.

About 700 people have been arrested for the violence and four linked to the Bharatiya Janata Party have been booked under the National Security Act (NSA), which allows the police to detained a person on the basis of suspicion for up to a year without trial.

At least 4,000 policemen, including 3,000 central forces have been deployed in the region.

The central forces will be replaced by state police personnel now being recruited, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said Thursday. The hiring process will be completed by March this year.

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