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Catholic World News News Feature

Widspread desecration of Christian graves in Somalia January 19, 2005

Paramilitary groups in Somalia have engaged in widespread looting of Christian graves, according to reports from the country's capital, Mogadishu.

A cemetery opened in Mogadishu by the Italian colonial regime generations ago has been desecrated, with about 700 graves destroyed and the remains dumped at a nearby abandoned air base. Most of the graves are those of Italian soldiers and expatriates who lived and worked in Somalia during the colonial era, up until 1950.

It is not clear why the militia groups are destroying the graves, but observers assume that the gangs are looking for precious items that could be sold for profit.

However, the show of contempt for Christian burial grounds also raises questions about the popular attitude toward the faith. Some Christians had hoped to return to Somalia under the protection of the new Transitional Federal Government, whose charter promises freedom of worship. But the desecrations in Mogadishu suggest that the government- which has not yet established control of the capital-- may be unable to protect a Christian minority.

Most of Somalia's Christian missions left the country in 1991, when it lapsed into anarchy. Since that time there has been no central government, and the country has been divided among contending warlords and their militia groups. Looting by those militias has become commonplace.

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