Thursday 9 September

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A group of twelve Kazakhs of various ethnic and religious backgrounds on a
Walk for Peace and Religious Tolerance has been refused entry into
Uzbekistan, effectively preventing it from proceeding on a route already agreed
to by the authorities. The march - organised by the youth group Vera (Faith)
and the South Kazakhstan Tatar-Bashkir Cultural Centre in the southern
Kazakh town of Shymkent - was to have taken the walkers from Shymkent via
Arystanbab to the Uzbek town of Bukhara, visiting holy sites along the route.

`We would like to inform you that the march held by "Vera" faced some
hardships while crossing the Uzbekistan border: customs let people go through
but they stopped the bus with food and tents,' the NGO Dialogue told Keston
News Service from Shymkent on 26 August. `This was despite an agreement
with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Uzbekistan for border crossing
assistance and along Uzbek territory. Now they refuse to do anything and
moreover they prevent them to fulfil their mission.'

The group of pilgrims, who are led by RUSLAN ABDULIN, has decided to
wait on the border until the Uzbek authorities give permission to enter. `The
march leader sent two appeals for help and assistance to the President of
Kazakhstan NURSULTAN NAZARBAYEV, and to the President of
Uzbekistan ISLAM KARIMOV.' Dialogue appealed for representations to be
made to the Uzbek Foreign Ministry and President Karimov to allow the group
to enter, and expressed the hope that the Uzbek media would report the

In an interview with the Interfax-Kazakhstan news agency on 27 August,
Abdulin pointed out that the pilgrims had `all the necessary permit documents'
from the Kazakh authorities for making the march. In addition, Abdulin said,
the administration of South Kazakhstan region, which borders on Uzbekistan,
appealed to the Uzbek authorities to assist the Kazakh pilgrims. However, he
said, `the Uzbek side is not taking this into account'.

Before the march began, the organisers had set out the following aims. `The
walking march will take place from Sairam through Turkestan and Samarkand
to Bukhara. This is the last preparatory march before a walk from Turkestan to
Mecca. After opening of our walking pilgrimage from Turkestan to Mecca
there will be the preparation of a similar walk from Kazan to Mecca, from St
Petersburg to Jerusalem and from Fujiama to Tibet. All people of goodwill who
value peace among nations and tolerance between religions - Respond to us!'

The NGO Dialogue told Keston on 1 September that it had not been able to
contact the group of pilgrims since it had been halted on the border as the
pilgrims had no mobile communications equipment with them. They presumed
the pilgrims were still waiting on the Kazakh-Uzbek border. (END)

Thursday 9 September

by Felix Corley, Keston News Service

A week after vandals attacked objects in an Orthodox Church in Mborje, the
Tirana-based Albanian Helsinki Committee (AHC) has added its voice to calls
by the Albanian Orthodox Church's Holy Synod for an end to attacks on
Orthodox churches. The Helsinki Committee believes that the attacks, once
regarded as isolated incidents, have been steadily increasing over the past two
years at a disturbing rate. `These repeated criminal acts constitute an open
attack against one of the basic principles of the Constitution, which declares the
freedom and the equality of religious beliefs,' the Helsinki Committee declared
in a 26 August statement, which went on to express concern that these attacks
might upset religious tolerance in the country.

`The AHC regards these vandal acts as dangerous attempts upon the old
civilised tradition of religious tolerance that has characterised Albanian society.
This tolerance has been and still remains a solid foundation of our national
unity. It is clear that, under the actual circumstances, there exist certain forces
who aim at sowing the seed of split and fanaticism.'

The vandals struck the Church of St George at Mborje in Korce on 17August,
the latest in a string of attacks. The Helsinki Committee cites a number of such
incidents dating back to 1996, including attacks on the Old Church of St
Spyridon at Vuno in Himare and the Church of St Michael at Voskopoje.
However, it cites about ten such cases in 1998 and 1999 alone, including arson
attacks on the monasteries of Kostar and Komena, the Church of the Dormition
of the Virgin Mary in the district of Delvine and the Church of St George at
Metoq in Sarande, and the desecration of the Church in Ksamil. Some of the
properties attacked are `monuments of culture' under the protection of the state.

The Helsinki Committee calls on the authorities urgently to `react with the
necessary seriousness' to identify and punish the perpetrators. `The tradition of
religious tolerance should be kept intact. This is also a moral obligation to the
history of this country,' the Committee concludes.

The Holy Synod made its appeal for an end to violence against its churches in
southern Albania on 20 July. The Synod was prompted by an arson attack on
one church, vandalism on another and an attack on a third during which its
icons were burnt in June and July in the southernmost Sarande region. `We
appeal for an end to these acts and ask the authorities to take the necessary
measures to stop this dangerous and unprecedented escalation which spoils
Albania's image in this critical historical period,' the Holy Synod declared.
`We raise our voice to defend not only our churches and monasteries but also
religious harmony and the peaceful coexistence characteristic of our country.'

The most high-profile attack came in the early hours of 19 August 1998 when a
bomb exploded in the then newly-built Orthodox church in the centre of the
northern town of Shkoder, destroying the altar and one side of the church. The
condemnation of the attack from Orthodox and other religious spokesmen was
swift. The following day the three religious communities in the city - the
Orthodox, Catholics and Muslims - issued a joint statement condemning the
`deliberate' act`which aims to damage the harmony and peaceful cohabitation
among religious'.

Orthodox believers account for around 20 per cent of Albania's 3.3 million
population, who are mainly Muslim. About another 10 per cent are Roman
Catholics. The three religious communities have been livingin relative
harmony since 1990 when a ban on religion was lifted shortly before Albania
toppled communism. Albania has been plagued with instability over the past
few years and was greatly affected by the influx of thousands of ethnic
Albanian refugees from Kosovo earlier in the year. The Orthodox Church -
which is headed by Metropolitan ANASTASIOS of Tirana and All Albania -
played a key role in assisting these refugees through its charitable arm,
Diaconia Agapes, which was founded in 1992. Metropolitan Anastasios has
repeatedly spoken up for religious tolerance. (END)