Two more killed in Orissa, communal violence continues (Lead)

September 1st, 2008 - 8:47 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Sep 1 (IANS) Orissa continues to be on the boil with the death toll in communal violence going up to 16 Monday even as the government has stepped up relief operations in Kandhamal, the place where the killing of a Hindu leader triggered anti-Christian mob fury a week ago. Despite a curfew, two more deaths have been reported while several churches and houses have been set on fire in Kandhamal district. Violence has been reported from 11 other districts as well.

Properties belonging to Christians are being targeted relentlessly by the mobs, forcing thousands of people to flee to relief camps or even take shelter in forests.

“We had seven relief camps earlier but today we opened two more,” Kandhamal district collector Krishan Kumar told IANS. “At least 13,500 people have taken shelter in the relief camps.”

Relief camps are now working at Chakapada, Tikabali, Phiringia, Phulbani, Raikia, Baliguda, K. Nuagaon, Tumudibandha and Daringbadi, he said.

At least 543 houses and 17 places of worship have been burnt, say officials, but unofficial sources say the figures could be much higher.

The state has witnessed communal violence since Aug 23 when Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad’s central advisory committee, and four others were killed by suspected Maoist guerrillas at his Jalespata ashram in Kandhamal.

Kandhamal district, with a population of around 600,000, of whom 150,000 are Christians, has witnessed many clashes between Hindus and Christians in the past.

Radical Hindu groups in the state allege that Christians killed Saraswati because he was opposing religious conversions, even though the state government has blamed Maoists for the killing.

The state government claims to have deployed thousands of policemen and paramilitary forces to check the violence.

A curfew has been clamped on all major towns in Kandhamal district and in Jeypore town in Koraput district.

Media reports said six churches and some houses had been burnt in Boriguma area of Koraput district and in some places in Rayagada district Sunday. However, director General of Police Gopal Chandra Nanda said: “Three or four churches had been set on fire.”

Orissa is not new to communal violence between Hindus and Christians.

On Jan 22, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and six-year-old Timothy, were burnt alive by a Hindu radical mob in their vehicle in Keonjhar district.

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