05/25/2009, 00.00
PAKISTAN
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Pakistani Christians to fast and pray for peace in Swat Valley

by Qaiser Felix
Taliban and army are engaged in house-to-house fighting in Mingora. UN agency estimates number of refugees tops 2.4 million. Catholic and Protestant religious leaders call for social justice and equality for minorities.
Lahore (AsiaNews) – Pakistani Christians are deeply troubled by the war between the army and the Taliban in the Swat valley. They have announced a day of fasting and prayer for 30 May.

United Nations sources have announced that nearly 2.4 people have been displaced as a result of the war. In Mingora fighting house to house is still raging between Taliban fighters and soldiers.

Army leaders in Islamabad said that it “may take seven to ten days to clear Mingora town of militants,” adding that the “operation may be a little slow to avoid civilian casualties, damage and destruction to property”.

A military official who did not want to be named said that six militants died overnight in the Taliban stronghold of Kabal, a town about 20 kilometres west of Mingora. “They were trying to plant a bomb outside a mosque but it exploded on them,” the official said.

Other sources are reporting that the “militants are on the run, their dead bodies are lying in streets,” but non independent verification has been possible.

Almost 2.4 million people have registered with North West Frontier Province (NWFP) provincial authorities after fleeing the Swat, Lower Dir and Buner, UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Rummery said. Most of them found refugee with family and friends, but many are crowding government-organised refugee camps.

The conflict in the Swat Valley and the tragedy of displaced people mirror Pakistan’s crisis and are cause of concern for the Catholic and Protestant Churches who are launching a drive to raise funds for the victims.

“As representatives of the Church and on behalf of the Pakistani Christians we express our deep concern about the present state of affairs in Pakistan”, said a joint communiqué released by the leaders of the Catholic and Protestant Churches in Pakistan.

The Churches have also called on the federal and provincial governments to repeal the 17th amendment of the constitution of 1973 because of its discriminatory provisions in terms of gender and religion. They also demand that the principle of one person-one vote in a single electorate be guaranteed.

Similarly, they have also urged the authorities to pursue social justice in favour of marginalised minorities, strengthen the school system which should be free of all texts that preach confessional hatred.

Catholics and Protestants have announced a day of fasting and prayer for 30 May.

On 13 June rallies are planned for across Pakistan, and on 16 August the Churches of Pakistan will hold a ‘Social Justice’ day for the marginalised in Pakistani society.

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