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Updated: February 13, 1997 05:00 PM GMT
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Christians from all over Pakistan have been bringing relief to Khanewal in the wake of a rampage by 15,000-20,000 Muslims in which a dozen churches, 800 Christian homes and 2,000 Bibles were burnt.

Four parish houses, two dispensaries, a boys´ hostel, two schools and 15 shops in Khanewal and Shantinagar and five other villages were also destroyed by the time army troops overcame police obstruction and restored order.

Bishop Armando Trinidade of Lahore, president of the Catholic Bishops´ Conference of Pakistan, blamed "anti-state elements" for the Feb. 6 violence about 60 kilometers east of Multan.

The loyalty of Christian citizens to Pakistan is "beyond question," Bishop Trinidade said, adding that non-Muslims hold the Koran in high regard and "could not think of an act of sacrilege to it."

He condemned the incident, appealed to Muslims to exercise restraint and not be misled by anti-state militants, and called upon the government to ensure the safety of life and property of the country´s religious minorities.

Witnesses said that on Feb. 6 Muslims attacked Shantinagar (city of peace), a predominantly Christian village of 15,000-20,000 people, in the presence of 300-400 policemen.

The attackers entered the village 10 kilometers southeast of Khanewal with tractors and trolleys, and many were reportedly armed with rifles, pistols, daggers, sticks, handmade bombs and other weapons.

The mob destroyed the main power transformers of the village and broke off telephone connections. Water pumps were also destroyed during the rampage.

Some Christians said they were beaten for refusing to say the Islamic creed, and many escaped with only the clothes on their back. A fire brigade arrived eight hours later and provided water, but people had no food for two days.

"The attackers took all expensive things with them -- gold ornaments, televisions, video machines, refrigerators, clothes, costly bedding, whatever they wanted -- but the rest was collected and set on fire," a villager said.

Area residents said tractors, motorcycles and cars were burned and many animals were killed or stolen. International media said two people were shot dead and five were injured when authorities opened fire to try to scatter the mob.

Asghar Fazal of the St. Joseph Hostel in Khanewal estimated total losses at more than 100 million rupees (US$2.5 million), while the government sent only 40 bags of "atta" (ground wheat), 180 blankets and 5,000 rupees in aid.

"My whole family went two days without a meal. We slept without warm bedding. We were homeless and shelterless. The Muslim people burned everything," Mukhtari Bibi, a 35-year-old mother of five, told UCA News.

After the district administrator called in the army, local police misled the soldiers and sent them in the wrong direction, witnesses reported. Seeing the smoke from burning houses in Shantinagar, soldiers rushed to the village, but were again put off when police told them the smoke was from burning tires.

Soldiers eventually entered the village without police permission. They turned some of the attackers over to police, who reportedly released them.

The rampage followed the successful filing of charges by local Christians against several police officers for desecrating a Bible.

On Jan. 17 police raided the house of Raj Paul of Shantinagar because of alleged gambling and liquor sales there. No evidence of these was found, but during the raid the police allegedly threw a Bible on the floor and kicked it.

The police were charged with insulting religious sentiments, and Deputy Police Superintendent Habib Ullah Ghumman allegedly threatened the Christians later with "dire consequences" if they did not withdraw their complaint.

On Feb. 5, some Muslims said a Koran in a mosque about a mile from Shantinagar was found torn, with Christian names written on some of the pages. Some "maulvis" (Muslim religious leaders) reportedly began to incite the people to "punish" the Christians in retribution.

However, on Feb. 11 a delegation of Muslim leaders visited the Catholic church in Khanewal and denied that there had been any desecration of the Koran. They denounced the "inhuman and brutal" violence of Feb. 6 and said "we will not allow anybody to use religion for their vested interest."


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