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 CNS Story:

PAKISTAN-EVICTIONS (CORRECTED) Dec-8-2005 (450 words) xxxi

Christians evicted to make way for Muslims in Pakistan, says bishop

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- Hundreds of Christians in Pakistan are being kicked out of their homes to make way for Kashmirians displaced for the construction of a dam, a Catholic bishop said.

Bishop Anthony Lobo of Islamabad-Rawalpindi, Pakistan, said Christians in the Sind province were being turned onto the streets without alternative accommodation provided for them.

He told the British branch of Aid to the Church in Need that he knew of at least 40 families, or about 200 people, who had been evicted around Joharabad, near Karachi.

"All the people are being thrown out, all of them are Christians," he said. "There is a lot of land which the government has at its disposal, but they (government officials) prefer to select a place that is already developed.

"Their mentality is like this: Why plant a sapling and wait for it to bear fruit when you can select another tree that is already bearing fruit?"

The bishop added: "We are the most vulnerable people, we are very poor and we are easy targets."

In an e-mail to Catholic News Service dated Dec. 7, Bishop Lobo said the Kashmirians had been evicted from their lands in the Pakistani part of Kashmir to make room for the Mangla Dam.

Although some settled in England, "others were given land which had been cultivated by both Christians and Muslims around Joharabad. This was unfair, since it should have been given to tillers of the soil (both Christians and Muslims) who had transformed the desert land into fertile fields," the bishop said. He added that the Kashmirians had, in effect, become new "landlords" in the Joharabad area.

Bishop Lobo said the original "tenants" challenged the case in court and won, but the Mangla Kashmirians appealed, and the verdict was reversed. The bishop said the Christians planned to appeal to Pakistan's High Court.

The forced evictions came amid claims that the 5-million-strong Christian minority in Pakistan is being persecuted.

In mid-November three churches in Sangla Hill, near Lahore, were destroyed by a mob of 3,000 people who also attacked two schools, a hostel and a convent after it was alleged that a Christian had burned pages of the Quran, the sacred book of Islam.

The incident prompted the leader of the worldwide Anglican Communion who was touring Pakistan in late November, Archbishop Rowan Williams of Canterbury, England, to call for the repeal of the country's blasphemy laws on the grounds that they were being misused against minorities.

The laws sanction the death penalty for defiling the Quran or insulting Mohammed, but Christians say they are being used against them in disputes over property.

END


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