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10/28/2011 Burma (CDN) – A recent attack on Christians and church buildings by Burmese soldiers in Kachin state showed that Christian civilians are targeted in the military offensive against insurgents.
“Targeting of Christians is not unusual in Burma’s conflict zones,” Nawdin Lahpai, editor-in-chief of the Kachin News Group, told Compass by phone, referring to the Oct. 16 military firing at a church, detention of a priest and four parishioners, and burning of church property in Kachin state. “The incident reflects the long-time policy of the Buddhist-Burman-majority Burmese government, which discriminates against the ethnic Christian minority.”
About 90 percent of the roughly 56 million people in Burma (also known as Myanmar) are Buddhist, mostly from the Burman ethnic group. Ethnic Kachins – like six other ethnic minorities who live along the country’s borders with China, Thailand and India – have had armed and unarmed groups fighting for independence or autonomy from successive military-led regimes for decades.
Intense fighting between the Burma army and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) began in June. But it’s not just the armed groups that are the target of Burmese troops, said the editor, a Kachin Christian.
In the Oct. 16 attack, about 150 soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 438 stormed Nam San Yang village in the Daw Phung Yang area of Bhamo District in Kachin state, which borders China, reported Mizzima, a Delhi-based news organization run by Burmese journalists. Members of a Catholic church who were preparing for Sunday mass heard gunfire and saw soldiers approaching them. They lay on the ground as the army men opened fire at them. No one was hurt.
The soldiers caught Catholic priest Jan Ma Aung Li and four other men.
“They said that all males in the village were people’s militiamen and KIO staff,” Mizzima quoted Aung Li as saying.
The soldiers asked the Christians where the insurgents had stored guns and bombs. When the five detainees said they were not from the KIO, the soldiers kicked them and hit them with gun butts. They ransacked the whole church, apparently to look for weapons and bombs.
“Then they tied our hands with wire and took us away,” the priest told Mizzima. On the way, about 150 more soldiers from Light Infantry Battalion 121 joined them. The Christians were forced to carry heavy rucksacks as they walked with the 300 army men. After walking for three hours, they rested at Lawkathama Monastery, where the soldiers and the KIO’s armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army, had a brief exchange of fire.
Later, they arrived at a Baptist church, where some soldiers burned the house of the priest, Aung San. The soldiers asked the detainees to tell the KIO that the army was preparing to attack their headquarters in Laiza before releasing them.
When the Christians reached their village, they found their houses burning.
The Kachin editor said religion was a key factor in the Kachin conflict, which dates back to the country’s independence in 1948.

While the majority of Kachins are Christian, Burmese authorities do not allow them to construct new church buildings as non-Burman Buddhist cultural expressions are seen as signs of insurgency.

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