02/12/2009, 00.00
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Guwahati archbishop mediates between Muslims and tribal Hindu

The two communities clashed in 35 Assam villages last October. About 50 people died and 60,000 fled their homes. Some local Christian communities were caught in the crossfire. For Monsignor Menamparampil, a “good start has been made” but much work still remains to be done.
Mumbai (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Muslims and Hindus have agreed to peace talks at the initiative of Archbishop Thomas Menamparampil of Guwahati, in the State of Assam. Leaders of the local Muslim and Bodo tribal communities met to sort out a row that has led to tens of dead and thousands of fleeing their homes.

In early October 2008 Bodo and Muslims clashed and burned each other's houses in Udalguri and Darrang districts. Muslims, who are out-of-state migrants, have become a majority in some districts. Bodos are indigenous and some groups within the community have been created to fight the central government for an independent state.

Tensions broke into open warfare when Bodos began calling for Muslims to leave.

Quickly violence escalated to engulf 35 villages, causing 50 dead and hundreds of wounded. About 60,000 people were forced to leave their homes for the relative safety of 32 camps set up by the Indian army

Local Christians have also become entangled in the violence. Three Christian tribal villages within the predominantly Muslim area were also burnt down, and three Catholic men killed.

Despite the presence of the army some violent incidents are still taking place. Altogether some 45,000 people from both Bodo and Muslim communities are still in government-run camps (refugee camp in Kharupetiya pictured)

But for Monsignor Menamparampil the first meeting on 5 February was an “unbelievably great breakthrough.”

A spokesperson for the Guwahati diocese said that local Christians waited for the meeting’s outcome with “great anxiety” because they were not sure of the Muslim response.

Representatives of the Muslim and tribal communities agreed to avoid any “further instance of violence” and establish a joint Muslim-tribal peace team.

“A clearly good start has been made,” Archbishop Menamparampil said. But much work still remains to be done.

Also, the “conflicting groups are eager for a settlement,” he noted, adding that government involvement will be important.

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