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Bangladesh: Kobia and president Ahmed discuss concerns of the country's tiny Christian minority

30 March 2005

Rights of minorities, increasing trends of religious intolerance, political violence, the need for strengthening of interfaith dialogue at grassroots level and Christian contributions to social development were discussed by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia and Prof. Dr Iajjudin Ahmed, President of the People's Republic of Bangladesh, during his first visit to the country.

At the meeting, held on Monday, 28 March, Kobia expressed concern over increasing acts of religious intolerance and violation of minority rights in the country, once known for being a moderate Muslim-majority country.

Terrorist activities are the responsibility of only a small group, president Ahmed told Kobia. He assured Kobia that the government is determined to prevent such activities and not to allow the extremists to have an impact.

On behalf of the tiny Christian minority in the country, Kobia asked president Ahmed to consider declaring Easter Sunday as a public holiday. The president agreed to support the proposal and suggested to Christian leaders present at the meeting to start negotiating with the government.

At the encounter, the WCC general secretary was accompanied by National Council of Churches President Sudhir Adhikari, Baptist Church President Sheila Mong Chowdhury, and Christian Development Commission Director Joyantha Adhikari.

On the first day of his 26-28 March visit, Kobia inaugurated the "Human and Organizational Potential Enhancement (HOPE)" international training centre of the Christian Commission for Development in Bangladesh (CCDB) in the capital city of Dhaka.

Recalling WCC involvement in the social development of the country since its independence in 1971, Kobia said that the CCDB's work towards strengthening civil society will continue to be supported by the ecumenical family around the world.

A strong civil society movement can play a significant role in sustaining and protecting justice and freedom in society, Kobia affirmed, speaking to a large audience representing churches, civil society and the international community.

In Bangladesh, with its high levels of human deprivation, systematic efforts need to be undertaken to enhance human development which will ultimately ensure freedom and human dignity for all, Kobia stated.

In a seminar held at the NCC Bangladesh headquarters on Ecumenism in the 21st Century, Kobia emphasized that, as the world becomes more and more polarized, interfaith dialogue and cooperation should be a priority of the ecumenical movement agenda.

In Bangladesh the ecumenical movement needs to be engaged in dialogue between Christians and Muslims at the grassroots level, where ordinary people experience the negative impact of religious intolerance and violence.

During his three-day visit, Kobia met with the leadership of WCC member churches and ecumenical organizations, as well as Roman Catholic and Evangelical church leaders in the country.

Kobia is accompanied by his wife, Mrs Ruth Kobia, and by WCC Asia secretary Dr Mathews George Chunakara. The trip continues with a visit to WCC member churches in Thailand from 29 March to 2 April. There he will also participate in the 12th general assembly of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) at Chiang Mai.

For additional information see WCC press releaseof 23 March 2005at:

www2.wcc-coe.org/pressreleasesen.nsf/index/pr-05-08.html