Islamabad: Leaders of the minority Christian community in the restive Khyber tribal region of northwest Pakistan have alleged that some 30 families were directed to leave their homes inside an Army camp where they have lived for decades.
The Christian leaders claimed the families were not given any notice before a commandant of the Khyber Rifles ordered the families to vacate their homes immediately, according to media reports on Monday.
The orders were verbally conveyed to the Christian families when they were assembling in a church, also located within the Army camp, for Sunday service.
"Khyber Rifles personnel, wielding sticks and batons, ordered us to vacate our houses immediately," Arshad Masih, chairman of the Christian community in Khyber Agency, told reporters.
Only Christians who are government employees were allowed to stay in their homes while the rest were directed to leave the army camp, he said. The Christians complained that they had been unable to arrange alternative accommodation.
Wilson Wazir, another leading member of the Christian community, said all males of the families were asked to leave immediately while women and children had taken shelter in hotels in Khyber Agency and Peshawar.
Masih said the Christians had been living in the area since 1914, when they were brought there by the British.
He said land was also given to the British by the Khugakhel tribe for 100 years to accommodate the Christians.
The Frontier Corps said this lease is now over and the Christians would have to vacate the land, said Masih.
Officials of the political administration said they could do nothing as the area fell under the jurisdiction of the security forces, he added.
Masih rubbished speculation that the Christians were being moved due to possible threats from local tribesmen.
Wazir said the Christians will approach federal ministers Paul Bhatti and Akram Masih Gill, both Christians, to take up their issue. The Christian community organised protest against the eviction of the families.
They carried banners denouncing the decision and shouted slogans against the security forces.
The Christians said they were not eligible for any jobs other than that of sweeper.
There are only 40 posts for sweepers in the Army camp and many men were jobless as they did not have tribal domicile certificates or national identity cards.
However, an unnamed official of the political administration told the Dawn newspaper that nearly 30 families were asked to leave the army camp as they had been living there without official permission.
The Khyber Rifles had issued several notices to these families but they had not paid any heed to them.