Tuesday, 18 April, 2000, 10:11 GMT 11:11 UK
‘Church backing Tripura rebels’
By Subir Bhaumik in Calcutta
The government in India’s north-eastern state of Tripura says it has evidence that the state’s Baptist Church is involved in backing separatist rebels.
Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar said state police had uncovered details of the alleged link after questioning a church leader.
Nagmanlal Halam, secretary of the Noapara Baptist Church in Tripura, was arrested late on Monday with a large quantity of explosives.
Mr Sarkar said that allegations about the close links between the state’s Baptist Church and the rebel National Liberation Front of Tripura (NLFT) have long been made by political parties and police.
Now for the first time, he said, hard evidence supporting the allegations had been found.
Mr Sarkar told the BBC that Mr Halam was found in possession of more than 50 gelatine sticks, 5kg of potassium and 2kg of sulphur and other ingredients for making explosives.
Chief Minister Sarkar says he has proof
He said that two other junior members of the same church, arrested last week, had tipped the police off about the explosives which were meant for the NLFT rebels.
The chief minister said that Mr Halam confessed to buying and supplying explosives to the NLFT for the past two years.
Another church official, Jatna Koloi, was arrested in south Tripura last week.
Police say Mr Koloi had received training in guerrilla warfare at an NLFT base last year.
Guards have been placed outside the headquarters of the Baptist Church in Tripura’s capital, Agartala, to prevent possible attacks on it once the news of Mr Halam’s arrest spread.
The NLFT is accused of forcing Tripura’s indigenous tribes to become Christians and give up Hindu forms of worship in areas under their control.
Last year, they issued a ban on the Hindu festivals of Durga Puja and Saraswati Puja.
The NLFT manifesto says that they want to expand what they describe as the kingdom of God and Christ in Tripura.
The Baptist Church in Tripura was set up by missionaries from New Zealand 60 years ago.
It won only a few thousand converts until 1980 when in the aftermath, of the state’s worst ethnic riot, the number of conversions grew.