UNESCO Condemns Quran Burning in India


The UN cultural organization condemned a reported incident in which the Muslim holy book was burned by Hindu hardliners in India, and demanded respect for sacred objects worldwide.

United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) special envoy Pierre Lafrance, during a visit to India, expressed indignation at the reported desecration of the Quran.

"One of UNESCO's missions is to try and foster peace between people of different beliefs which is a prerequisite for peace in the world."

He said he was "aggrieved to see reaction appearing in a non-Muslim country," apparently referring to India.

"UNESCO condemns with utter indignation all actions taken in the shape of retaliation against sanctity of Muslim holy places and holy books."

Lafrance arrived in Pakistan last month as a special emissary to prevent the destruction of Buddhist relics in Afghanistan, although the ruling Taliban went ahead, rejecting all international pleas.

Last week's communal riots in India and occupied Kashmir left 13 dead and many more seriously injured.

Violence broke out in a few areas of the country, particularly one in which activists of the Students Islamic Movement of India tried to burn an effigy of Prime Minister of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee to protest against the alleged desecration of the Holy Quran in Delhi.

Copies of the Quran were reportedly burned by Hindu extremists in response to the demolition of the Bamiyan Buddhas by the Taliban regime in Afghanistan.

To further incite anger among Muslims, copies of pictures of the holy Quran being burned were sold for RS 5 (1 cent), provoking even more trouble and unrest among the Muslim minority.

The worst riot hit areas known so far have been Kanpur, parts of Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir.

Sources say a curfew had been imposed immediately in the riot prone area of Kanpur.

The Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, last week blamed the Student Islamic Movement of India (SIMI) on Wednesday for being behind the Kanpur riots.

Meanwhile an all-party delegation of Muslim members of the parliament consisting of Sayed Shahnawaz Hussein, E Ahmed, Hannan Mollah and Mansoor Ali Khan met the Prime Minister to demand protection in the riot prone area of Kanpur.

They also demanded the government provide adequate monetary compensation to the families of those killed in the riots, but both demands were rejected.

Indian Security forces were sent in full force in the border areas of Jammu and Kashmir, where they clashed with protestors. One Muslim was shot dead by the forces.

Expectations of a quick return to normalcy remains high but anticipation about further tension in the area also seems to be in the air.

Vajpayee expressed grave concern over reports of the burning of the Holy Quran in some parts of the country in the past few days and also urged the citizens of the country, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to strive together to maintain and strengthen the unity and integrity of India. But critics said Vajpayee did little to prevent the violence.

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Anuradha Hazra lives in Calcutta, India. AFP contributed to this report.


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