Uproar after Moonies buy town

BBC News/October 14, 2000

The residents of Puerto Casado, in Paraguay, have demanded that their town be handed over to the local council after it was purchased by the sect known as the Moonies. The Unification Church of the Reverend Sung Myung Moon acquired more than 300,000 hectares of land in the northern department of Alto Paraguay.

The land was sold by an Argentine company and includes the town of Puerto Casado which has about 6,000 inhabitants.

The residents of Puerto Casado prevented an aircraft carrying a delegation of Moonies from returning to the capital, Asuncion after hearing on Wednesday that their town had been sold.

After a meeting with community leaders, and the mediation of the deputy interior minister, Mario Sapriza, the Unification Church representatives were allowed to leave.

But correspondents say tensions have not eased and no solution has been found.

Residents' demands

The residents of Puerto Casado say they want the Moonies to hand over the property of the town and the church to the local council.

They are also demanding 5,000 hectares for agricultural purposes and to retain control over the airport and other facilities.

One of the representatives of the Unification Church, Reverend Koo Bae Park, told residents that with the acquisition of the town they were now "partners".

He added that Moonies and local residents should learn to live together so as to be able to build universities, schools and a modern port.

A Paraguayan newspaper has quoted a local councillor, Jose Domingo Adorno, as saying that the community needs to be sure it won't be evicted.

"We demand guarantees that we won't have to leave our homes. Paraguayans shouldn't be sold in this manner", he said.

Moonie plans

The Moonies, who are thought to have paid $15 million for the land, say they have plans for the economic reactivation of the area.

These include the export of timber, and the construction of new river ports from which to transport their products to Asia.

The Unification Church already manages a newspaper in Paraguay, as well as buildings and yachts in Fuerte Olimpo, the departmental capital of Alto Paraguay.

In neighbouring Brazil, the sect has built a community for about 2,000 followers.

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