Bangladesh Buddhists Burn Down Church, reports

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

By BosNewsLife News Center

DHAKA, BANGLADESH (BosNewsLife) -- Christian villagers in a remote area of Bangladesh tried to rebuild their lives Tuesday, April 11, after an angry mob reportedly burned down their church to protest against their decision to abandon Buddhism and convert to Christianity.

While Bangladesh is a majority Muslim country, Buddhism flourishes in small pockets like Panchari, where the attack took place. Panchari is a sub-district of Khagrachhari district in the southern Chittagong Hill Tracts, known for religious violence

A Bangladesh army contingent has reportedly been deployed to Kinamonipara village following the March 30 incident in Panchari to prevent further violence, but human rights watchers have in the past expressed concern that security forces are also involved in attacks against Christians.

Christian sources in the capital, Dhaka, said the tension was at least partly due to Buddhist leaders losing temple fees from villagers who converted to Christianity reported Christian news agency Compass Direct.

The latest violence came a year after local Buddhist leaders were angered over a Christian baptism ceremony and began attacking churches and their leaders. Uzzal Kanti Chakma, the pastor of Kinamonipara Presbyterian Church, reportedly fled the area before 12 men launched an attack on his house May 28, 2005. They returned the next day and threatened to cut his wife open with a sword, Compass Direct reported.


Another church in nearby Choungrachari Mukh Nikonja Karbaripara was allegedly attacked on June 3 and Buddhist leaders apparently supervised the beating of two Christians, identified as Gyan Ratan and Ananda Joy. A third Christian, Kripa Ranjan, began crying and apparently escaped the beating.

The injured Christians were told not to go to hospital and ordered to pay a fine of 5,000 taka (US$71) and return to Buddhism before June 10 or the small Christian community in the village would be uprooted, Compass Direct said. The Christians are said to have paid the fine without abandoning their faith, but they live in fear of another attack.

The settlement of Bengali Muslims in the Chittagong Hill Tracts is known for tensions between Buddhist and Christian villagers. A small number of Hindus from neighboring Tripura in Northeast India have also settled in the area.

In an attempt to overcome huge population density in lowland areas, the Bangladesh government allocated large parcels of hill tract land to Bengali Muslims from 1976 onwards although village communities had owned this land for centuries.


The Muslim settlers took land granted by the government, and encroached further into tribal territory. When villagers protested, troops were sent in to protect the settlers and permanent army barracks were established.

A civil war between hill tracts rebels and government forces ended with the signing of the Chittagong Hill Tracts Peace Accord on December 2, 1997. The tribes, however, then split into two distinct factions, with one side supporting the central government and the other preferring independence.

Religious differences then became a focal point for villagers who needed a scapegoat for their frustrations, analysts say. Christians elsewhere in Bangladesh can do little to support those in Panchari as the area is geographically remote, and travel in the region is restricted because of the tenuous peace between rebels and government forces.

Local Christians were quoted as saying that they "feel completely isolated and unable to appeal to local authorities" and that they are "depending on God for a just resolution." (With reports from Bangladesh).

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