EU team meets police, Christian leaders over Kandhamal


Bhubaneswar: An 11-member European Union (EU) team, which is to visit Orissa’s Kandhamal district to interact with riot victims, Wednesday met government officials, Christian leaders, civil society groups and social activists here and discussed the situation in the region.

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The delegation is to Thursday head to Kandhamal, where at leasst 38 people were killed in communal riots in 2008 after the killing of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati allegedly by Maoists.

“Events in Kandhamal had its impact in Europe. Our visit is a reflection of the concern,” a member of the team told select mediapersons here.

The team is led by Christophe Manet, counsellor (head of political affairs) European Commission delegation to India.

The delegation, which comprises members from Spain, Hungary, Poland, Ireland, Finland, Sweden and Britain, met the top brass of the state police earlier in the day and discussed the prevailing situation in Kandhamal.

According to state police chief M.M. Praharaj, the team was briefed about the steps taken to restore normalcy in Kandhamal after the riots.

“The EU diplomats thanked the state government for peaceful celebration of Christmas and New Year’s Day by the minority community in Kandhamal and other places,” Praharaj told reporters here after meeting the delegation.

The delegation also met civil society groups to take stock of the human rights situation in Kandhamal following the riots.

The delegation also met some Christian leaders.

“During the meet, they asked whether normalcy is there or not (in Kandhamal). We are of the view that normalcy will only return once people who are out of their homes will return to their homes and feel safe,” said Archbishop of Cuttack-Bhubaneswar diocese Raphael Cheenath.

VHP and Bajrang Dal activists staged protests at the Biju Patnaik airport Tuesday night when the team arrived here, saying the visit will only flare up the situation in Kandhamal.

Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said: “It is a short visit for a day or two. The delegation will assess the prevailing situation in the district and check out what had happened during last year’s riots.”

Kandhamal, about 200 km from here, witnessed widespread violence after the murder of Saraswati and four of his aides at his ashram Aug 23, 2008.

More than 25,000 Christians were forced to flee their homes after their houses were attacked by rampaging mobs, which held Christians responsible for Saraswati’s killing, although police blamed the Maoists.