Religious intolerance threatening relief efforts

WASHINGTON: Religious intolerance could derail crucial relief efforts in tsunami-hit Asian nations, US groups warned on Friday amid isolated reports of proselytising in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and India. 

Many Western religion-based charities were among the first to reach out to countries ravaged by the Dec 26 catastrophe that has killed more than 280,000 people and made one million homeless. 

“Now that we have an inflow of religiously-affiliated aid organisations, the tensions may increase,” Roger Severino, legal counsel for The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, said at a Congressional briefing on the issue. 

Particularly in Sri Lanka, Severino said “we think that these aid groups could be considered a threat by some extremist organisations which have a history of accusing NGOs of unethical conversion activities.” 

The Becket Fund, citing reports, said Muslim extremists in Indonesia had directly threatened Christian humanitarian relief organisations for helping Muslim orphans while Hindus in India had begun to tout their anti-conversion laws as a way to counter Christian relief groups. 

The Fund, an interfaith, non-partisan, public-interest law firm, said the “greatest danger” to relief efforts might lie in predominantly Buddhist Sri Lanka, where an upsurge of anti-Christian violence was reported before the tsunami struck. 

The New York Times newspaper warned last week that scattered reports of proselytising in Sri Lanka, predominantly Muslim Indonesia as well as India, which has large Hindu and Muslim populations, were arousing concerns that the goodwill spread by American relief efforts might be undermined by resentment. – AFP  

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