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Indian Court Convicts 13 for Murder of Christian Missionary


An Indian court has convicted 13 people for the murder of an Australian Christian missionary and his two sons more than four years ago, during a series of attacks on Christians.

Judge Mahendranath Patnaik handed down the guilty verdict for the 13 men in Bhubaneshwar, the capital of Orissa state in eastern India. One person was acquitted for lack of evidence.

Australian Christian missionary Graham Staines and his sons were burned alive in January, 1999, when a mob set fire to their car as they slept in a village about 165 kilometers north of Bhubaneshwar. Mr. Staines' sons were 8 and 10 years old. The murder sparked outrage in India and international condemnation.

The killings were among a series of attacks in 1999 on missionaries and Christian institutions. The attacks were blamed on Hindu extremists who accuse Christian missionaries of converting poor Hindus by offering free medical care and education.

The 13 convicted men, including the main suspect, Dara Singh, will be sentenced next week. They could face the death penalty. Their lawyers say they will appeal to a higher court.

Dara Singh was accused of leading the mob that set fire to Mr. Staines' vehicle. For nearly a year after the murder, he was on the run, apparently protected by supporters who sympathized with his campaign against Christians.

Several Christian groups and human rights organizations say Dara Singh was associated with right-wing Hindu groups, but a judicial inquiry into the attack found no links between him and organized Hindu groups.

Before he was killed, Mr. Staines had spent more than 30 years working among leprosy patients in Orissa. His widow continues to live and work in the state. In a recent interview she said she forgave her husband's killers.

Christian missionaries have run schools and hospitals in India for centuries, especially in remote villages and tribal areas. Christians make up about two percent of India's population.

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