Junta targets ethnic minority states as civil war looms.
CHIANG MAI, Thailand, December 8 (CDN) — Civilians in two ethnic minority states with large Christian populations fear their lives will be in danger as skirmishes between rebels and a Burmese junta bent on instilling Buddhist nationalism threaten to escalate into war.
“It is likely that the military junta will carry out a military offensive against ethnic armed groups now that the elections are over,” Nang Mya Naddy, ethnic program coordinator of the Democratic Voice of Burma radio program, told Compass.
Christians fear that full-scale civil war in Burma (also known as Myanmar) could result in either ethnic cleansing or total subjugation of minorities. Persecution of Christians in Burma is part of a wider campaign against ethnic minority tribes to create a uniform society in which the only accepted religion is Buddhism, according to the British daily Telegraph, citing a 2007 government memo circulated in Karen state giving instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.
Independent media reports suggest that the possibility of a major clash between ethnic armies and government troops is highest in Kachin and Karen states. Burma’s ethnic minorities, who inhabit states along Burma’s border with Thailand, China and India, have been demanding independence or autonomy for decades.
There are an estimated 1.2 million people in Kachin state, of which around 1 million are Christian. About 40 percent of the 3.5 million people in Karen state are estimated to be Christian. The Burmese junta, dominated by an ethnic Burman Buddhist majority, also seems to be preparing for war in the predominantly Buddhist state of Shan.
The junta has blocked trade links and deployed troops in Karen state, where the Karen National Liberation Army has not been offered a truce.
“The refugees from Burma continue to flow into neighboring Thailand as fighting fails to die down in Karen state between Burmese government troops and breakaway forces of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army [DKBA],” reported The Irrawaddy, a Chiang Mai, Thailand-based publication covering Burma and Southeast Asia. “The latest military action was reported early on Monday [Dec. 6] from Myawaddy Township, where the Metta Linn Myaing village was shelled by junta troops. More than a dozen artillery shells hit the area of the village, according to local sources.”
Around 1,200 refugees are living at a border patrol police base in Mahawan area in Tak Province’s Mae Sot district in Thailand, a Thai official told The Irrawaddy.
“Sadly, so far neither side in the recent fighting has shown much regard for the civilians caught in the crossfire,” Elaine Pearson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told The Irrawaddy. “The situation in Karen state was further complicated when the Karen National Union (KNU) entered into the conflict in support of the DKBA breakaway forces.”
David Takapaw, vice chairman of the KNU, told The Irrawaddy, “We will not stop fighting if they [the Burmese army] insist on trying to deploy in our area.”
The junta perceives all Christians in ethnic minority states as insurgents, according to the pro-democracy Free Burma Rangers (FBR) relief aid group. The Burmese Army attacked a Christian village in Karen state four months ago, according to the FBR, and on July 23 burned all houses and the state’s largest church in Tha Dah Der village.
To intensify its battle for control in ethnic minority states after its Nov. 7 election victory, the Burmese army has blocked sea and land routes to Karen and Kachin states, increased deployment of troops in areas controlled by rebel groups and transported ammunition in large quantities.
In 2008, Burma’s government ordered all armed groups under ceasefires to meld into the Border Guard Forces. Many rebel groups have refused to comply.
Although the election – the first in the last two decades – was held last month and the government released pro-democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, it is becoming clearer daily that the junta is in no mood to address grievances of the country’s ethnic minorities.
While rights groups around the world are calling for national reconciliation, the Burmese junta, whose proxy party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party, is likely to have a majority in parliament, is preparing for a military fight with ethnic minority rebels.
“The recent purchase by the State Peace and Development Council [SPDC] of 24 Russian military helicopters, as well as the establishment of new helicopter bases near the Salween River, suggests that the Tatmadaw, the name for the Burmese military, is gearing up for a ‘military solution’ to the ethnic issue,” noted an opinion piece in The Irrawaddy on Nov. 29.
One of the military’s main targets is the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).
The KIA has had a ceasefire agreement with the Burmese government since 1994, but “it has recently been broken, and we are waiting to see what will happen next – if we can reconcile or not,” a leader of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand identified only as Shirley told Compass. “The KIA wants reconciliation with the SPDC [State Peace and Development Council, Burma’s junta-controlled regime], but the government hasn’t allowed Kachin political groups to participate in politics or in the recent election.”
Indirect negotiations for peace are underway now, she said, adding that she was unsure if the Kachin will be attacked or not. “The KIA is ready to fight back,” she said.
Media reports indicate that the likelihood of the Burmese regime attacking is greater than chances of it seeking reconciliation.
“The threat to the Kachin Independence Organization [KIO, armed wing of the KIA] has increased manifold with the Burmese military junta dispatching significant quantity of arms to Kachin state, northern Burma,” reported the independent online Kachin News Group (KNG).
The military has also ordered the KIO to close down all its branch liaison offices in northern Burma. Only the main liaison office in Kachin’s capital, Myitkyina, has been allowed to function, KNG added.
In addition, the junta has provided arms training to workers of an agriculture company it supports, Yuzana Co., “in preparation for civil war with the Kachin Independence Organization,” the news group reported. In October, the military provided “60 Chinese-made M-22 assault rifles, copies of the Russian AK-47” to Yuzana workers in the Hugawng Valley, according to KNG.
The Rangoon-based Yuzana Co. came to the Hugawng Valley in 2006 and “grabbed up about 400,000 acres from the ethnic Kachin people with assistance from the local Burmese military and administrative authorities,” KNG reported. “Since 2006, the company has transported thousands of Burman ethnics from southern Burma to the Hugawng Valley every year.”
Mizzima, a New-Delhi based news organization, reported that the KIO has urged businessmen in the northern Burma stronghold of Laiza to leave, given the high probability of military conflict. A KIO spokesperson told Mizzima that “fighting was likely to break out soon.”
KNG also reported on Dec. 2 that Burma’s military junta “has a secret mission” to spread HIV in Kachin state as part of an ethnic cleansing effort. “Beginning 1990, the junta has systematically dispatched HIV-infected sex workers from the Thai-Burma border to Kachin state, especially to the Hpakant jade mining city,” it reported.
Shirley of the Kachin Women’s Association Thailand said she was not sure if “ethnic cleansing” was the goal of the Burmese army, but that the junta did want to spread AIDS as well as sell drugs to the Kachin people.
“The SPDC does not allow the expansion of churches and took over church land in certain areas,” she said. “The construction of new churches is not allowed, and the Kachin people have to ask permission to organize religious meetings, which is a detriment to community-building activities since the church is the foundation for the community, with 85 percent of the population being Christians.”
Emulate Sri Lanka?
Christians also fear that the Burmese regime may emulate the Sri Lankan government’s recent war against the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE). Rights groups say thousands of civilians were killed in Sri Lanka before its government claimed victory over the areas controlled by the Tamil Tigers.
But Htet Aung, election specialist for The Irrawaddy, told Compass that while the Burmese regime may use Sri Lanka’s military strategy, “the nature of armed conflicts and their historical contexts are different.”
“While Sri Lankan’s government faced LTTE alone, the junta is now facing several armed ethnic groups,” Aung said. “The junta, unlike Sri Lanka’s present government, is facing a strong democratic leadership by Aung San Suu Kyi.”
Tensions in ethnic states are far greater than has been reported, sources said. Shirley added that there are only a few channels of communication in Kachin state, and the suffering of civilians there often goes unreported.
The Burmese regime projects that close to 70 percent of the country’s population is ethnic Burman. Ethnic minorities dispute the claim, saying the figure is inflated to make a case for Burman Buddhist nationalism.
The new constitution, which will come into force with the first session of parliament, was passed through a referendum in May 2008 that was allegedly rigged. It provides for religious freedom but also empowers the military to curb it under various pretexts.
Article 34 states, “Every citizen is equally entitled to freedom of conscience and the right to freely profess and practice religion subject to public order, morality or health and to the other provisions of this Constitution.” Article 360 (a), however, says this freedom “shall not include any economic, financial, political or other secular activities that may be associated with religious practice,” apparently to bar religious groups from any lobbying or advocacy.
Further, Article 360 (b) goes on to say that the freedom “shall not debar the Union from enacting law for the purpose of public welfare and reform.”
Adds Article 364: “The abuse of religion for political purposes is forbidden. Moreover, any act which is intended or is likely to promote feelings of hatred, enmity or discord between racial or religious communities or sects is contrary to this Constitution. A law may be promulgated to punish such activity.”
Furthermore, Article 382 empowers “the Defense Forces personnel or members of the armed forces responsible to carry out peace and security” to “restrict or revoke” fundamental rights.
Report from Compass Direct News
Country’s religious regulatory authority expected to consider recognition before year’s end.
NEW DELHI, November 4 (CDN) — For the first time in Bhutan’s history, the Buddhist nation’s government seems ready to grant much-awaited official recognition and accompanying rights to a miniscule Christian population that has remained largely underground.
The authority that regulates religious organizations will discuss in its next meeting – to be held by the end of December – how a Christian organization can be registered to represent its community, agency secretary Dorji Tshering told Compass by phone.
Thus far only Buddhist and Hindu organizations have been registered by the authority, locally known as Chhoedey Lhentshog. As a result, only these two communities have the right to openly practice their religion and build places of worship.
Asked if Christians were likely to get the same rights soon, Tshering replied, “Absolutely” – an apparent paradigm shift in policy given that Bhutan’s National Assembly had banned open practice of non-Buddhist and non-Hindu religions by passing resolutions in 1969 and in 1979.
“The constitution of Bhutan says that Buddhism is the country’s spiritual heritage, but it also says that his majesty [the king] is the protector of all religions,” he added, explaining the basis on which the nascent democracy is willing to accept Christianity as one of the faiths of its citizens.
The former king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, envisioned democracy in the country in 2006 – after the rule of an absolute monarchy for over a century. The first elections were held in 2008, and since then the government has gradually given rights that accompany democracy to its people.
The government’s move to legalize Christianity seems to have the consent of the present king, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who is respected by almost all people and communities in the country. In his early thirties, the king studied in universities in the United States and the United Kingdom. Prime Minister Lyonchen Jigmey Thinley is also believed to have agreed in principle to recognition of other faiths.
According to source who requested anonymity, the government is likely to register only one Christian organization and would expect it to represent all Christians in Bhutan – which would call for Christian unity in the country.
All Hindus, who constitute around 22 percent of Bhutan’s less than 700,000 people, are also represented by one legal entity, the Hindu Dharma Samudaya (Hindu Religion Community) of Bhutan, which was registered with the Chhoedey Lhentshog authority along with Buddhist organizations a year ago.
Tshering said the planned discussion at the December meeting is meant to look at technicalities in the Religious Organizations Act of 2007, which provides for registration and regulation of religious groups with intent to protect and promote the country’s spiritual heritage. The government began to enforce the Act only in November 2009, a year after the advent of democracy.
Asked what some of the government’s concerns are over allowing Christianity in the country, Tshering said “conversion must not be forced, because it causes social tensions which Bhutan cannot afford to have. However, the constitution says that no one should be forced to believe in a religion, and that aspect will be taken care of. We will ensure that no one is forced to convert.”
The government’s willingness to recognize Christians is partly aimed at bringing the community under religious regulation, said the anonymous source. This is why it is evoking mixed response among the country’s Christians, who number around 6,000 according to rough estimates.
Last month, a court in south Bhutan sentenced a Christian man to three years of prison for screening films on Christianity – which was criticized by Christian organizations around the world. (See http://www.compassdirect.org, “Christian in Bhutan Imprisoned for Showing Film on Christ,” Oct. 18.)
The government is in the process of introducing a clause banning conversions by force or allurement in the country’s penal code.
Though never colonized, landlocked Bhutan has historically seen its sovereignty as fragile due to its small size and location between two Asian giants, India and China. It has sought to protect its sovereignty by preserving its distinct cultural identity based on Buddhism and by not allowing social tensions or unrest.
In the 1980s, when the king sought to strengthen the nation’s cultural unity, ethnic Nepalese citizens, who are mainly Hindu and from south Bhutan, rebelled against it. But a military crackdown forced over 100,000 of them – some of them secret Christians – to either flee to or voluntarily leave the country for neighboring Nepal.
Tshering said that while some individual Christians had approached the authority with queries, no organization had formally filed papers for registration.
After the December meeting, if members of the regulatory authority feel that Chhoedey Lhentshog’s mandate does not include registering a Christian organization, Christians will then be registered by another authority, the source said.
After official recognition, Christians would require permission from local authorities to hold public meetings. Receiving foreign aid or inviting foreign speakers would be subject to special permission from the home ministry, added the source.
Bhutan’s first contact with Christians came in the 17th century when Guru Rimpoche, a Buddhist leader and the unifier of Bhutan as a nation state, hosted the first two foreigners, who were Jesuits. Much later, Catholics were invited to provide education in Bhutan; the Jesuits came to Bhutan in 1963 and the Salesians in 1982 to run schools. The Salesians, however, were expelled in 1982 on accusations of proselytizing, and the Jesuits left the country in 1988.
“As Bhutanese capacities (scholarly, administrative and otherwise) increased, the need for active Jesuit involvement in the educational system declined, ending in 1988, when the umbrella agreement between the Jesuit order and the kingdom expired and the administration of all remaining Jesuit institutions was turned over to the government,” writes David M. Malone, Canada’s high commissioner to India and ambassador to Bhutan, in the March 2008 edition of Literary Review of Canada.
After a Christian organization is registered, Christian institutions may also be allowed once again in the country, given the government’s stress on educating young Bhutanese.
A local Christian requesting anonymity said the community respects Bhutan’s political and religious leaders, especially the king and the prime minister, will help preserve the country’s unique culture and seeks to contribute to the building of the nation.
Report from Compass Direct News
Karnataka, India, October 29 (CDN) — Police arrested Pastor Muthyalan Paul on Oct. 26 in Nelamangala, Bangalore, after Muslim radicals barged into a prayer meeting, accused him of forceful conversion, tore Bibles and damaged household items. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that police, alerted by the Muslim extremists, charged the pastor with “deliberate and malicious acts intended to outrage the religious feelings of others.” A judge sent the pastor to Nelamangala Sub-Jail, but with area Christian leaders’ intervention he was released on bail the next morning.
Karnataka – Hindu nationalists on Oct. 20 burned down a house church in Bellakatte village, near Chitradurga. The Global Council of Indian Christians reported that Pastor Mallappa Hanumanthappa Andrew of Samadhana Prayer House and his brother were walking on a village road when six area extremists waylaid them and began slapping the pastor, falsely accusing him of forcible conversion. They also slapped and shoved his brother when he tried to come to Andrew’s aid. Cursing, the extremists then burned down the house used for worship. Baramasagara police arrested four extremists identified only as Manjunath, Parashuram, Ramanna and Devaraj, charged them with unlawful assembly and released them after two hours.
Madhya Pradesh – Threatening to file a police complaint, Hindu nationalists in Chattarpur on Oct. 19 accused Pastor Kunal Parichha of forcibly converting people and sending them to Bible college, a source said. The pastor and the nationalists met for talks the next day, only to have the extremists threaten to kill him if he continued to lead worship meetings. At press time area Christian leaders were taking steps to resolve the conflict.
Karnataka – Police detained a pastor identified only as Surendra for more than three hours on Oct. 15 after Hindu nationalists disrupted the worship of Calvary Assemblies of God Church and beat him in Boothanhalli Kaval, near S. Bidra village, Chickmagalur district. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that at 7:30 p.m., as the pastor was leading worship in another Christian’s house where 15 others had assembled, nearly 25 cursing extremists stormed in, chased them
out and repeatedly slapped and punched Pastor Surendra. A GCIC coordinator told Compass that the extremists dragged the pastor outside, ripped his shirt off, took away his mobile phone, and telephoned police that “conversion activities” were taking place. Conversion and “conversion activities” are legal in India. Police arrived at 9 p.m., arrested the pastor and interrogated him. With GCIC intervention, Surendra was released at 12:30 a.m. without being charged.
Orissa – Hard-line Hindus in Paikamara, Puri, Orissa district on Oct. 14 confined three recent converts to Christianity in a house, assaulted them and pressured them to deny their new faith. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that Aswini Sahu, Sanatana Jena and Amulya Swain became Christians six months ago after listening to Christian radio broadcasts. When the Hindu extremists learned of it, they threatened them and expelled them from the village after the Christians continued to worship Christ. The Christians took shelter in different homes, and then went back to their village after receiving word by telephone that tensions had cooled. As soon as they returned, however, the extremists caught hold of them, beat them and confined them. With GCIC and area Christian leaders’ intervention, police rescued the Christians and warned the extremists not to disturb them again.
Haryana – Hindu extremists on Sept. 30 attacked a church’s Christian school in Ghaziabad. A source said that the extremists showed up in a truck armed with guns and other implements of destruction at the Ingram Institute and broke a wall. Trying to occupy the church property, they started building a wall around a student hostel and other properties near the school and verbally abused director Hepesh Shepherd, staff members and students. Christians immediately filed a complaint, and police detained two extremists. They were later released without charges.
Chhattisgarh – Hindu extremists assaulted Pastor Suresh Deep of The Church of God on Sept. 28 in Rajnandgan. A source reported that the incident began the previous day when two church members, Shilembra Sahu and Raj Kumar, started quarrelling about whether Kumar was meeting standards for Christian living, and as villagers came to become involved in the conflict, Hindu extremists took Kumar’s side. The extremists filed a complaint against Sahu, and police arrested him for joining an assembly likely to cause a disturbance. The next day, Pastor Deep went to submit a bail petition for Sahu, and some 20 extremists who had gathered at the court verbally abused him, beat him and dragged him to a Hindu temple. There they forced him to drink dirty water and to write that he would refrain from any conversion activity. The pastor sustained bruises all over his body. Area Christian leaders intervened, and police registered a case against the attackers, but no arrests had been made at press time. Sahu was sent to Rajnandgan district jail but was released on bail on Sept 30.
Kerala – Muslim extremists beat a Christian convert from Islam after they saw him worshipping Jesus on Sept. 22 in Vikas colony, Ambalavayal. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that a pastor identified only as Chacko had established a friendship with a Muslim man who was an alcoholic. After attending the church, the Muslim stopped drinking alcohol, led a changed life and decided to follow Jesus Christ. Enraged by the change in him, the extremists seriously injured the convert. They also damaged Pastor Chacko’s pipeline, the source for water for about 10 Christian families, and pelted the pastor’s home with stones, damaging the house. GCIC reported that the extremists continued to threaten the pastor by telephone daily.
Madhya Pradesh – Hindu extremists from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) on Sept. 16 attacked a building belonging to the Believers Church in Jabalpur, bringing it to the ground. Believers Church representative Sushant Sona reported that the RSS members arrived in a huge vehicle designed to demolish buildings and destroyed the facility, claiming that they would not allow any church to exist in the area. The Rev. Samkutty Issac and other Christian leaders pleaded with the government officials to take action against the culprits.
Karnataka – Hindu extremists attacked a church building under construction at Byappanahalli village on Sept. 12 near Bengaluru, accusing area Christians of large-scale, forcible conversion. The extremists broke into the church building and tried to pull it down, reported the All India Christian Council. Police arrived in time to stop them, but the extremists filed a complaint against Pastor John Babu and other Christians for alleged forcible conversion. Under the extremists’ pressure, the police later issued a notice to the church to stop construction and issued arrest warrants against the pastor and seven others. To avoid further harassment, the Christians applied for anticipatory bails. They also filed petitions seeking court intervention to stop the extremists from further assaults. At press time the church building remained abandoned and unguarded.
Karnataka – A mob of about 100 Hindu extremists on Sept. 5 barged into the house church worship of a congregation of the Indian Pentecostal Church and beat a pastor in Doni, Gadag. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that the extremists ripped Bibles, tore the clothes of Pastor Mallikarjuna Sangalad, dragged him out of the house and beat him. Police arrived and arrested Pastor Sangalad, where they ordered him to stop leading worship meetings, according to the GCIC. Christian leaders intervened, and police released the pastor without charges.
Karnataka – Ramnagar police Sub-Inspector Babu Madhar on Sept. 3 forcefully entered a Calvary Fellowship Prayer house church meeting led by Pastor P.R. Jose and ordered him to immediately stop the service. The Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) reported that police accused the Christians of forceful conversion and ordered them to close down the house church. After area Christian leaders’ intervention, according to the GCIC, the Christians were given police protection for worship.
Report from Compass Direct News
With possibility of secession by Southern Sudan, church leaders in north fear more land grabs.
NAIROBI, Kenya, October 25 (CDN) — Police in Sudan evicted the staff of a Presbyterian church from its events and office site in Khartoum earlier this month, aiding a Muslim businessman’s effort to seize the property.
Christians in Sudan’s capital city told Compass that police entered the compound of the Sudan Presbyterian Evangelical Church (SPEC) on Oct. 4 at around 2 p.m. and ordered workers to leave, claiming that the land belonged to Muslim businessman Osman al Tayeb. When asked to show evidence of Al Tayeb’s ownership, however, officers failed to produce any documentation, the sources said.
The church had signed a contract with al Tayeb stipulating the terms under which he could attain the property – including providing legal documents such as a construction permit and then obtaining final approval from SPEC – but those terms remained unmet, church officials said.
Church leader Deng Bol said that under terms of the unfulfilled contract, the SPEC would turn the property over to al Tayeb to construct a business center on the site, with the denomination to receive a share of the returns from the commercial enterprise and regain ownership of the plot after 80 years.
“But the investor failed to produce a single document from the concerned authorities” and therefore resorted to police action to secure the property, Bol said.
SPEC leaders had yet to approve the project because of the high risk of permanently losing the property, he said.
“The SPEC feared that they were going to lose the property after 80 years if they accepted the proposed contract,” Bol said.
SPEC leaders have undertaken legal action to recover the property, he said. The disputed plot of 2,232 square meters is located in a busy part of the heart of Khartoum, where it has been used for Christian rallies and related activities.
“The plot is registered in the name of the church and should not be sold or transfered for any other activities, only for church-related programs,” a church elder who requested anonymity said.
The Rev. Philip Akway, general secretary of the SPEC, told Compass that the government might be annoyed that Christian activities have taken place there for many decades.
“Muslim groups are not happy with the church in north Sudan, therefore they try to cause tension in the church,” Akway told Compass.
The policeman leading the officers in the eviction on Oct. 4 verbally threatened to shoot anyone who interfered, Christian sources said.
“We have orders from higher authorities,” the policeman shouted at the growing throng of irate Christians.
A Christian association called Living Water had planned an exhibit at the SPEC compound on Oct. 6, but an organization leader arrived to find the place fenced off and deserted except for four policemen at the gate, sources said.
SPEC leaders said Muslims have taken over many other Christian properties through similar ploys.
“We see this as a direct plot against their churches’ estates in Sudan,” Akway said.
The Rev. John Tau, vice-moderator for SPEC, said the site where Al Tayeb plans to erect three towers was not targeted accidentally.
“The Muslim businessman seems to be targeting strategic places of the church in order to stop the church from reaching Muslims in the North Sudan,” Tau said.
The unnamed elder said church leaders believe the property grab came in anticipation of the proposed north-south division of Sudan. With less than three months until a Jan. 9 referendum on splitting the country according to the Comprehensive Peace Agreement of 2005, SPEC leaders have taken a number of measures to guard against what it sees as government interference in church affairs.
Many southern Sudanese Christians fear losing citizenship if south Sudan votes for secession in the forthcoming referendum.
A top Sudanese official has said people in south Sudan will no longer be citizens of the north if their region votes for independence. Information Minister Kamal Obeid told state media last month that south Sudanese will be considered citizens of another state if they choose independence, which led many northern-based southern Sudanese to begin packing.
At the same time, President Omar al-Bashir promised full protection for southern Sudanese and their properties in a recent address. His speech was reinforced by Vice President Ali Osman Taha’s address during a political conference in Juba regarding the signing of a security agreement with First Vice President Salva Kiir Mayardit (also president of the semi-autonomous Government of Southern Sudan), but Obeid’s words have not been forgotten.
Akway of SPEC said it is difficult to know what will become of the property.
“Police continue to guard the compound, and nobody knows for sure what the coming days will bring,” Akway said. “With just less than three months left for the South to decide its fate, we are forced to see this move as a serious development against the church in Sudan.”
Report from Compass Direct News
Nigerian girls are being forced to work as prostitutes in Mali "slave camps," Nigerian officials say, reports CISA.
The girls, many of them underage, are often promised jobs in Europe but end up in brothels, said the government’s anti-trafficking agency. According to BBC correspondent, the brothels are run by older Nigerian women who prevent them from leaving and take all their earnings.
Nigeria’s National Agency for the Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (Naptip) said officials visited Mali in September to follow up "horrendous reports" from victims, aid workers and clergy in Mali.The agency said it was working with Malian police to free the girls and help them return to Nigeria.
They said there were hundreds of brothels, each housing up to 200 girls, run by Nigerian "madams" who force them to work against their will and take their earnings.
"We are talking of thousands and thousands of girls," Simon Egede, Executive Secretary of Naptip, told a news conference in Abuja, adding that they were between 20,000 to 40,000.
He, however, did not give details as to how the figure had been reached.
In a statement, Egede said girls were "held in bondage for the purposes of forced sexual exploitation and servitude or slavery-like practices."
"The madams control their freedom of movement, where they work, when they work and what they receive," he said.
The trade is centred on the capital Bamako and large cities, but the most notorious brothels are in the mining towns of Kayes and Mopti, where the sex workers live in "near slavery conditions," said Naptip.
Many of the brothels there also had abortion clinics where foetuses were removed by traditional healers for use in rituals, said Egede.
Most of the girls were reported to have come from Delta and Edo States in Nigeria.
Many were lured with the promise of work in Europe, given fake travel documents and made to swear an oath that they would not tell anyone where they were going.
On arrival in Mali, they were told they would have to work as prostitutes to pay off their debts. Prostitution is legal in Mali but not if it involves minors.
Naptip said it had also uncovered two major trafficking routes used to transport the women from Nigeria through Benin, Niger and Bukina Faso to Mali.
Egede said Naptip was working with the police in Mali to return the girls to Nigeria safely, shut down the trade and prosecute the traffickers.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
The Vatican Apostolic Library will be reopened again this month after three years of reconstruction. As its director explained to Vatican Radio, it aims to be a cultural aid, to offer a glimpse of the "great truth of the world of God," reports Catholic News Agency.
Vatican Radio interviewed the library’s prefect, Msgr. Cesare Pasini about the grand reopening set to take place on Sept. 20.
Noting a series of initiatives scheduled to mark the reopening of the library this fall, the prefect also spoke of the value of the library to all people.
He said that by reopening the library, "we not only show scholars and the world what we have done … but we remodel ourselves on this fundamental spirit, on our mission, so that we don’t just make it a place to consult books."
The library, which allows scholars from all walks and creeds to study its volumes, has an aspect of universality and cultural preservation because it conserves materials "for today and tomorrow," he said.
Msrg. Pasini also promotes culture by allowing works to be "used, seriously studied and then probed to find any further fragment of truth.
"There are many truths," he said, "historic truths, truths that make investigations into the reality of things, and these little truths form part of the great truth of the world of God."
In an article he wrote for last Sunday’s edition of the L’Osservatore Romano, Msgr. Pasini described some of the 15,000 letters and e-mails his office has received hoping for the prompt conclusion to the restoration work and describing the library’s importance to studies. Responding to the interest, he said that in looking around the now "silent and shining" library, he has seen that "only the friendly presence of our scholars is lacking." He added, "may they know that they are warmly awaited."
Archivist of the Vatican Secret Archives, Cardinal Raffaele Farina, will present the renovated, restored and restructured library in an on-site press conference next Monday.
Report from the Christian Telegraph
Assailants, still at large, abduct and threaten blind volunteer, associate and pregnant wife.
NEW DELHI, September 6 (CDN) — A visually impaired Christian and his friend accused drunken Buddhists of abducting and assaulting them last week after the blind volunteer distributed relief material in a Buddhist-majority town in a region of India devastated by recent floods.
The attackers are still at large after the assault on Wednesday (Sept .1) in the town of Leh in Jammu and Kashmir state’s Ladakh region, where flooding and landslides destroyed hundreds of houses and killed around 200 people on Aug. 6.
The attackers, identified as members of the Ladakh Buddhist Association (LBA), one of the region’s largest and most influential Non-Governmental Organizations, abducted Ram Kumar Thapa, Stanzin Chosphel and his pregnant wife Putali Sherpa because of their Christian faith and beat the men, the victims said.
Thapa, a blind music teacher in his 30s, was abducted from Mahabodhi Gate in Choglamsar area in Leh, where he was distributing relief material, at around 7 p.m. on Wednesday, according to the complaint he filed on Thursday (Sept. 2) with the Jammu and Kashmir State Human Rights Commission.
LBA members were upset that Thapa was preaching Christianity to displaced residents, according to his complaint. The Evangelical Fellowship of India Commission on Relief, a Christian relief agency, is rebuilding homes for the displaced people, mostly Buddhists, in the area.
“I was attacked physically by several unknown assailants before other witnesses nearby,” Thapa stated in the complaint. “Then these men forced me into a vehicle and continued beating me all over my body as they spoke in Ladakhi to each other.”
Thapa, from the eastern state of West Bengal, also stated that the Buddhists contemplated killing him. “They discussed whether to take my life or return to the ‘office,’” he said.
The assailants took Thapa to the office of the LBA in Soma Monastery, where a Buddhist monk was also present, and beat him again, he stated. He was then moved to a room where he could hear the voice of his friend, Chosphel, with his pregnant wife.
Chosphel, a convert from Buddhism, is from Ladakh and his wife is from Nepal. The Buddhist assailants had taken them from their house in the Skalzaling area in Leh after Thapa, under pressure from the LBA members, identified them as his associates, according to the Christian victims.
The attackers showed Thapa’s bruised and bleeding face to Chosphel to warn him against continuing as a Christian, Thapa stated. He was then taken back to the vehicle.
“They placed a gunny sack with a rope onto my lap and explained that this would be my last bed … [after] they throw me into the Indus River and see if a blind man can swim and save himself,” Thapa stated. “I became terribly afraid, since I could smell alcohol on their breath as we sat in the vehicle.”
Thapa begged that his life be spared “so I could see my wife, who must be worried since it was late now.” The kidnappers replied, “Your wife will see you when she finds your body by the river bank,” he stated.
Thapa and his wife, also visually impaired, teach and live at Mahabodhi Residential School for handicapped children.
Thapa stated that when he asked what they wanted from him, “they said I had to leave Ladakh with my family within two days or else they would kill me and my family. It was around 1 a.m. when they dropped me back to my house, bruised and trembling.”
Thapa went to the Housing Colony Police Station on Thursday (Sept. 2) and found out that Chosphel also was there to file his complaint.
Chosphel confirmed that the “office” they were taken to belonged to the LBA. In his complaint to the commission, Chosphel said that around 15 “heavily drunken” men came to abduct him and his wife in their black Bolero, a mid-size SUV.
In the courtyard of the LBA facility, the Buddhists beat Chosphel before his wife, who pleaded for them to stop and asked why they were being assaulted.
“They threatened to beat her as well if she did not keep silent,” Chosphel stated. “Then they dragged me into a room and gagged my mouth so I could not cry out as they beat me with rubber pipes and rods and fists continuously. All along they kept telling me to leave my wife and also renounce my faith in Christianity and return to Buddhism.”
The men released the couple at around 12:30 a.m. after giving them two days to leave Leh or convert to Buddhism, Chosphel stated, “or else they will chop my wife into pieces and kill me and also kill my family … who are still practicing Buddhists.”
The attackers also confiscated their mobile phones.
The victims told Compass that they were still facing a threat on their lives even after filing complaints with police.
Additional Superintendent of Police Stanzin Nurboo told Compass that no one had been arrested because the victims could not name the accused.
Chosphel and his wife, however, told Compass that they would be able to identify the attackers if they saw their faces; at press time, however, they said police had not contacted any of them to do so.
Religious conversion is a sensitive issue in Leh, which borders Pakistan and Tibet, as it is seen as an attack on its distinct religious and cultural identity.
Citing religious and cultural differences with the otherwise Muslim-majority Jammu and Kashmir state, some residents of Ladakh have been asking for union territory status for the region.
As a concession, the Ladakh region was bifurcated into Muslim-majority Kargil district and Buddhist-majority Leh district in 1979, and the Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council was also created in 1995 to grant some autonomy to Leh and Kargil districts.
The government of Jammu and Kashmir continues to have responsibility for maintaining law and order and is in charge of the judicial system, communications and higher education.
Of the population of 117,232, over 80 percent of the people in Leh are Buddhist. Muslims make up around 15 percent of the population, Hindus 3 percent and Christians 0.2 percent.
Report from Compass Direct News
Kidnapped relief workers had come to provide aid to victims of massive flooding.
ISLAMABAD, Pakistan, August 27 (CDN) — Authorities on Wednesday (Aug. 25) recovered the bodies of three Christian relief workers who had been kidnapped and killed by members of the Pakistani Taliban in the flood-ravaged country, area officials said.
Swat District Coordination Officer Atif-ur-Rehman told Compass that the Pakistan Army recovered the bodies of the three foreign flood-relief workers at about 7 a.m. on Wednesday. An official at the international humanitarian organization that employed the workers withheld their names and requested that the agency remain unnamed for security reasons. Military sources who withheld news of the deaths from electronic and print media to avoid panicking other relief workers granted permission to Compass to publish it in limited form.
“The foreign aid workers have been working in Mingora and the surrounding areas,” Rehman said. “On Aug. 23 they were returning to their base at around 5:35 p.m. when a group of Taliban attacked their vehicle. They injured around five-six people and kidnapped three foreign humanitarian workers.”
Pakistan has been hit by its worst flooding in decades, with the United Nations now estimating more than 21.8 million people have been affected. Foreign aid workers are involved in relief activities across the country, including Swat district in Khyber-Paktunkhwa Province in northern Pakistan. At least 8 million people require emergency relief, with hundreds of thousands reportedly isolated from aid supplies.
An army Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) source said rangers have been deployed in Swat and other potential target areas to help provide security for relief workers.
“The Taliban had warned about attacks on foreigner aid workers and Christian organizations,” the ISPR source said. “All the international humanitarian organizations have been notified, and their security has also been increased.”
Rehman noted that the Taliban also has been trying to bring relief to flood victims.
“The Taliban are also trying to support the flood victims, and many other banned organizations have set up camps in southern Punjab to support the victims,” he said. “They intend to sympathize with the affected and gain their support.”
The president of advocacy organization Life for All, Rizwan Paul, said the bodies of the three relief workers had been sent to Islamabad under the supervision of the Pakistan Army.
“We strongly condemn the killing of the three humanitarian workers,” Paul said. “These aid workers came to support us, and we are thankful to the humanitarian organizations that came to help us in a time of need.”
Pointing to alleged discrimination against minorities in distribution of humanitarian aid, Paul added that Christians in severely flood-damaged areas in Punjab Province have been neglected. The majority of the effected Christians in Punjab are in Narowal, Shakargarh, Muzzafargarh, Rahim Yar Khan and Layyah, he said.
“The Christians living around Maralla, Narowal, and Shakargarh were shifted to the U.N.- administered camps, but they are facing problems in the camps,” he said. “There are reports that the Christians are not given tents, clean water and food. In most of the camps the Christians have totally been ignored.”
Life for All complained to U.N. agencies and the government of Pakistan regarding the discrimination, but no one has responded yet, he said.
“There have been reports from Muzzaffargarh and Layyah that the Christians are living on the damaged roads in temporary tents, as they were not allowed in the government camps,” he said.
In Sindh Province Thatta has been flooded, and around 300 Christian families who tried to move from there to Punjab were forbidden from doing so, a source said. Meteorologists are predicting more rains in coming days, with the already catastrophic flooding expected to get worse.
Kashif Mazhar, vice president of Life for All, said that in the northern province of Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa conditions for Christians are better as there are Christian camps established, and Garrison Church in Risalpur is also providing aid to victims.
“It is discouraging to see that the Christian organizations are wholeheartedly supporting the victims regardless of the religion or race, but in most of the areas the Christians are totally ignored and not even allowed to stay,” Mazhar said.
Foreign targets are rarely attacked directly in Pakistan, despite chronic insecurity in the nuclear-armed state, which is a key ally in the U.S.-led war on Al Qaeda and the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan. On March 10, however, suspected Islamic militants armed with guns and grenades stormed the offices of a Christian relief and development organization in northwest Pakistan, killing six aid workers and wounding seven others.
The gunmen besieged the offices of international humanitarian organization World Vision near Oghi, in Mansehra district, of the North West Frontier Province. Suicide and bomb attacks across Pakistan have killed more than 3,000 people since 2007. Blame has fallen on Taliban and Al Qaeda-linked militants bitterly opposed to the alliance with the United States.
The U.N. decided last year to relocate a limited number of its international staff from Pakistan because of security concerns. Its World Food Program office in Islamabad was attacked in October last year, with five aid workers killed in a suicide bombing.
Then on Feb. 3, a bomb attack in the NWFP district of Lower Dir killed three U.S. soldiers and five other people at the opening of a school just rebuilt with Western funding after an Islamist attack.
Report from Compass Direct News