04/22/2005, 00.00
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Church in Manipur burnt down by 200 fundamentalists

by Nirmala Carvalho
We don't want the situation to deteriorate even more, says Archbishop of Imphal.

Manipur (AsiaNews) – About 200 people armed with sickles, pickets and torches set fire to a Church in Lamding village, which is about 21 kilometres from Imphal, the capital of the Indian state of  Manipur (north-eastern India).

The attack took place on April 19, the day of Pope Benedict XVI's election.

Mgr Dominic Lumon, Co-adjutor Archbishop of Imphal, told AsiaNews that "the attackers did not like to see a church built in the middle of a predominantly Hindu community".

"These people," he said, "first objected to the church construction, then tried to prevent the laying of the foundations and [eventually] the start of the building itself."
"The land on which the church was built belongs to the Church," Archbishop Lumon said. "No one can object to the building on legal grounds".

"The attack has aggrieved Manipur Christians," he lamented, noting that the entire Christian community marched to the Chief Minister's Office, calling for the arrest of the culprits and demanding that the church be rebuilt with public funds.

The Chief Minister expressed "understanding and solidarity" with the local Christian community and called them "model citizens".

Kesho Khundongbam, deputy inspector with the Imphal police, told AsiaNews that some police officers rushed to the site where they prevented further damages.

"The Police were quick to act, and we arrested four culprits," he said, but in the scuffle more than ten Christians were injured, he added, as "they desperately tried to prevent the mob from setting fire to their Church.."

For Archbishop Lumon, "the situation is too volatile and these incidents of communal violence are disastrous. Regrettably, there is deep resentment among the Indigenous Tribals in the north-east India. The indigenous Tribals claim that the Tribals who converted to Christianity over a century ago have divided the tribal community."

"However", Bishop Dominic insists, "the Church has never discriminated nor will it ever discriminate on the basis of religion or social class."

A meeting was scheduled for Friday April 22 between the All India Christian Council of Manipur with representatives of the seven sister states of north-eastern India to deal with the issue.

As Archbishop Lumon put it: "We do not want the already communally sensitive situation to further deteriorate."

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