07/11/2016, 16.06
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Kandhamal: Christians mistakenly killed as" Maoists"

by Nirmala Carvalho

The five victims were returning from market where they worked. Two of them were Pentecostal Christians, one was a two-year-old child. When their car got stuck in the mud, they decided to continue on foot. Police had prepared an ambush for Maoist rebels. The incident brings back memories of the 2008 pogroms.

Mumbai (AsiaNews) – Police in Kandhamal district, Odisha, opened fire on a group of people, mistaking them for Maoist guerrillas. Five were killed, including two Pentecostal Christians and a two-year-old child, and five more were wounded

Sajan K George, president of the Global Council of Indian Christians (GCIC) slammed the “killing of Christians under false pretense”.

“This is not an isolated case,” he told AsiaNews. “Dalits and Tribals are being killed all the time. Our people are not Maoist. They are struggling to survive and lead a life of dignity despite veiled threats and the climate of insecurity present in the district. "

On Friday, the victims were returning from Baligunda market, where they worked thanks to Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme, which offers manual jobs to adults without vocational qualifications.

Sajan K George explained that the group was ambushed by police, who were looking for rebels who had lately carried out night raids. As soon as people got out of their car, which had been stuck in the mud because of incessant rains in order to walk home to the village of Malapanga, the police opened fire.

These murders are a "sinister warning for Christians,” the Christian leader said.

For District Police Superintendent Pinak Mishra, the deaths were accidental. "Police received a tip that some rebels would be travelling on that road at night,” he said. “Together with the Central Reserve Police Force*, they laid an ambush for the Maoists. The car got caught in the crossfire between the two."

The superintendent added that the scene of the incident is still inaccessible and mobile phones do not work due to lack of network. He said that an investigation will take place "to determine whether the people were victims of police bullets or those of the Maoists".

This latest episode of violence has rekindled memories of the tragic events of 2008, when the worse anti-Christian pogroms in India’s history broke out in Kandhamal.

Still, Odisha Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has already decided to pay out 500,000 rupees (US$ 7,500) in compensation to the victims’ families.

“Compensation might satisfy the families, but it is not enough,” said Fr Madan Singh, a member of the canonisation commission for the Kandhamal martyrs. “Measures to protect Christians are needed."

Last year, he noted, a Christian couple was killed in cold blood on suspicion of being Maoists. “The latest event comes as a shock to Adivasi and Dalits,” he explained. “Innocent people were victims of human rights violations perpetrated against them. "

* The Central Reserve Police Force is the largest of India's Central Armed Police Forces.

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