Refugee camps swell as tension flares up in Orissa (Lead)

September 2nd, 2008 - 11:12 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Sep 2 (IANS) Fresh violence flared up communal tension in rural areas of Orissa’s Kandhamal district with thousands of villagers, mostly Christians, rushing to relief camps for safety, fearing mob attacks.”There have been sporadic incidents of violence in some areas but no major incidents have been reported today,” Kandhamal district collector Krishan Kumar told IANS.

The toll in the violence has gone up to 16 even as the government deployed police and paramilitary forces in 12 of the state’s 30 districts and imposed curfew in Kandhamal.

The communal violence erupted on the evening of Aug 23, when Swami Lakshmanananda Saraswati, a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) central advisory committee, and four others were killed by unidentified gunmen at his Jalespata ashram in Kandhamal.

According to officials, about 2,500 homes, prayer houses and schools were damaged or burnt, while activists put the figure at more than 5,000.

The district administration opened more relief camps, taking their total number to 11, to accommodate people fleeing their homes. Officials said the camps were swelling as more and more people were reaching for shelter and safety.

“While the relief camps were housing 14,500 people today morning, the number has gone up to 19,500 in the evening,” District Collector Krishan Kumar said, adding that the administration had provided them clothes, free foods and other items required for living.

“We have treated at least 2,000 people in the relief camps who were suffering from different ailments, including cold, fever, asthma and diarrhea. They are being provided free foods and medicines,” he said.

Due to the violence, thousands of villagers in Kandhamal district fled to nearby forests. Some of them were now returning and taking shelter in the relief camps set up by the administration.

“Fifty percent of the people were brought by us, while the others came on their own. Today (Tuesday) we rescued 20 children from a Christian home at Phulbani since they were feeling unsafe,” Krishan Kumar said.

“A police party has gone to Raikhola village to rescue 25 old people who informed us that they want to take shelter in the relief centres,” he added.

Orissa Home Secretary T.K. Mishra and Director General of Police Gopal Chandra Nanda visited the violence-hit regions of Kandhamal Tuesday along with several senior police and administrative officials to assess the situation.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said the situation was considerably under control.

Night curfew was in force in all towns of Kandhamal. Curfew was also clamped in Jaypore town in Koraput district after communal clashes, a police official said.

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