Muslims torch Christian homes in southern Egypt

Muslims set fire overnight to at least 10 houses belonging to Coptic Christians in a village in southern Egypt over rumours that a Christian resident had an affair with a Muslim girl, security officials said on Tuesday.

Updated: Nov 17, 2010, 00:09 AM IST

Cairo: Muslims set fire overnight to at least
10 houses belonging to Coptic Christians in a village in
southern Egypt over rumours that a Christian resident had an
affair with a Muslim girl, security officials said on Tuesday.

The officials said security forces sealed off the village
of al-Nawahid in Qena province, some 465 kms south of Cairo,
to prevent the violence from spreading to neighbouring
towns. They said several people were arrested.

The attacks started after locals spotted a young Copt and
a Muslim girl together at night inside the village cemetery,
the officials said. They added that both were put under police
custody as authorities investigate.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because
they are not authorised to speak to the media.

The village was calm by nightfall, after religious
leaders from both communities persuaded their followers to end
the confrontation. Residents called on police to withdraw.

Clashes between Christians and Muslims occasionally occur
in southern Egypt, mostly over land or disputes over church
construction. But sectarian tensions have also been on the
rise recently in the capital.

Last year in Qena, a Coptic man was accused of kidnapping
and raping a 12-year-old Muslim girl. The alleged assault led
to widespread protests by the Muslim community and increased
tensions between the two religious groups, which culminated in
the murder of six Copts and one Muslim security guard at a
church on January 6.

Coptic Christians make up about 10 per cent of Egypt`s
population of 80 million. Copts and Muslims generally live in
peace, though tension and violence occasionally flare.

Human rights groups say attacks on Copts are on the rise,
underscoring the government`s failure to address chronic
sectarian strains in a society where religious radicalism is
gaining ground.

The government insists Christians enjoy the same rights
as Muslims.

PTI