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Roma flee Hungarian paramilitary ‘training camp’

Nearly 300 Roma women and children fled their homes in northeastern Hungary on Friday as members of a far-right paramilitary group arrived for what was being billed as a three-day “training camp”.

In the village of Gyongyospata, 81km northeast of Budapest, 277 women and children boarded five buses made available by the Red Cross.

“People have asked us to take the local children and women to a holiday camp in Csilleberc” near Budapest, Red Cross director Erik Selymes told the Hungarian news agency MTI.

How long they would stay there was not yet clear, he said.

“They’re scared and we believe they’ll be safer if they leave,” the head of the local Roma community, Janos Farkas said.

A far-right paramilitary group called Vedero is planning a three-day training camp in the village this weekend.

The group, which is close to the far-right Jobbik party and whose members dress up in military uniforms, has been patrolling the streets of Gyongyospata since last month in what they say is an attempt to “restore order”.

The local police have refused to intervene, even though the Roma community has repeatedly complained of an atmosphere of intimidation.

But Interior Minister Sandor Pinter has said the patrols were illegal and would stop, and on Friday a spokesperson for Prime Minister Viktor Orban warned those responsible faced fines.

“The maintenance of order is the exclusive monopoly of the state,” Peter Szijjarto said. “The state will in no way share this right.”

Offenders would be fined 100 000 forints (about R4 000), the equivalent of an average month’s wages in Hungary.

Selymes of the Red Cross said that around 400 police officers were in the village on Friday to make sure the Vedero members did not enter the Roma quarter, barely 100m from the site of the “training camp.”

Gyongyospata has a total population of around 2 800, with the Roma numbering around 450.

Local rights groups are planning to hold a demonstration in support of the Roma and adult Roma men have agreed to remain in the village and help clean up afterwards. — AFP

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