More than 500 Catholic schools in northeastern India were closed in protest after three missionaries of the Salesian order of Catholic priests and brothers were shot dead by militants on May 15.

All three staff—novice master Father Raphael Paliakara, 46, Father Andreas Kindo, 31, and Brother Shinu Joseph Valliparambil, 23—were shot dead, apparently by militants with automatic weapons on May 15.

The missionaries were of the Salesian novice house at Ngarian hills 20 miles from Imphal, capital of the state of Manipur. It and surrounding states have a complex ethnic mix and dozens of militant groups fighting for rights for their peoples.

"We are all extremely distressed," said Father Thomas Mulayinkal, Salesian superior of the province of Dimapur, which includes the novice house.

Mulayinkal said more than 5,000 people, including 200 priests and three bishops, attended the funeral at the Salesian seminary in Dimapur.

He said the militants "forced their way into the [novice house] putting an AK-47 rifle at the temple of the driver guarding the house, asking him to take them to the superior." Paliakara gave them 30,000 rupees (US$640) which he had in the house, but "they were not satisfied" and shot him. The assistant priest and the brother who rushed in on hearing the shots were also killed.

"Maybe they [the militants] are targeting and punishing us for refusing to heed to their extortion demands," said Mulayinkal.

Father Dominic Lumon, vicar general of the Catholic archdiocese of Imphal, said that in February eight Catholic schools in Imphal Valley decided "not to concede to the extortion demands" of militant groups who had recently demanded the schools pay 500,000 rupees (US$10,700) each.

"After a few days, our schools had to be closed ...

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