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11/8/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – Despite improvements in the political climate of Myanmar, the army continues to trample the rights of Christian Kachins, raising concern over whether the U.S. should be acting on plans to resume links with the Burmese military.
Over Fifty Villagers Held by Burmese Soldiers
In early September 2013, three villagers, including an assistant Pastor, were killed in the Northern Kachin state of Burma after being detained by soldiers. Eight other men from the same village, including a Pastor, were tortured in the local church compound before being released, according to Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) officials.
On Oct. 15, it was reported that the targeted persecution of Christians in the village had not changed. According to a Christian Kachin journalist who spoke to Vision Beyond Borders, “…there are still [over 50] villagers being held by Burmese soldiers. The villagers are not allowed to leave the village. Food is getting scare and medical help is needed…14 villagers are in desperate need of medical care but were denied any help.” A report from Thailand-based Kachin News Group (KNG) confirms this account.
Rev. Ram Mai, the village Reverend, also told KNG that he “remains very concerned that the 53 villagers are being used as human shields.” As of mid-October, there were reportedly more than 200 troops deployed in this village, according to an eyewitness who spoke to Vision Beyond Borders on condition of anonymity.
Persecution of Christians by Burmese Military
More than 90% of Kachins are Christians. As a result, the conflict in the Kachin state is inflamed by the military’s particular distaste for Christianity, which is viewed as a western religion that subverts the Buddhist nationalism preferred by the Burmese army, especially the officer corps.
In an interview with Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), a former political prisoner told CSW about his torture and interrogation, “I was asked, ‘Do you know where you Kachin descended from?’ My interrogators told me that during British colonial rule Burmese soldiers raped Kachin women, and those women had children, and the current generation of Kachins are descendants of those women who had been raped.” The army’s distaste for Christianity is woven into the unresolved ethnic conflict, resulting in a situation that is far from a permanent solution.
On Oct. 22, two Tatmadaw battalions entered and occupied the villages of Mung Ding Pa and Nam Lim Pa, exchanging fire with Kachin forces and subsequently blocking residents from leaving, according to Myanmar Times. When members of the Kachin Baptist Convention and other aid workers attempted to visit the villages, they were turned back by Tatmadaw soldiers stationed on the outskirts.
Even before the soldiers arrived, Mung Ding Pa was home to about 400 displaced people, who were suffering from a shortage of medicine and food, a situation that is only likely to worsen now that the village is cut off from local assistance channels, according to the Myanmar Times.
The Myanmar army’s targeted abuses against civilians in situations of armed conflict must be brought to an end and perpetrators should be held accountable, and the resolution should clarify that,” said Matthew Smith, Executive Director of Fortify Rights. Smith also said, “Impunity for wartime abuses will be a serious obstacle to lasting peace in Kachin State and should be clearly addressed.”
In a CSW report released on May 15., an interview with a former Kachin political prisoner, and the wives of three current Kachin political prisoners, indicate the appalling use of torture and represent severe violations of human rights by the Burmese military.
Since June 2011, more than sixty churches were burnt down, 64 women or girls were raped and half of them were murdered, thousands were forced to flee their homes, and prisoners were tortured and abused for being Kachin Christians.
Around 2000 civilians have been displaced in the Mansi area, typifying a situation that is common throughout Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) camps in the country, which face shortages of food, medicine and shelter. Often these camps cannot be reached by aid because of obstruction from the military or the danger from ongoing conflict.
As Ryan Morgan, International Christian Concern’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, says “The reports of Kachin Christians held hostage by the Burmese military are alarming, as are reports that Burmese troops are using cease fire agreements with the Kachin as a chance to reinforce and resupply. We call on President Thein Sein to investigate the reports of hostages in Kachin State and to ensure that Burmese military forces respect the fundamental human and religious rights of the Kachin.
Concern Over the U.S. Resuming Links with Burmese Military
The ongoing persecution of Christians and unresolved history of targeting the Kachin Christians in Northern Myanmar is the chief reason that lawmakers and activists are concerned over the Obama Administration’s intention of resuming links with the Burmese military.
Although the assistance to the army would be non-lethal, the move is seen as a hasty decision to provide assistance to a military that remains accused of attacking ethnic minorities and blocking humanitarian aid. There are even concerns that it would give international legitimacy to a military that has waged a brutal campaign during the past two years, displacing 100,000 civilians in northern Kachin state, according to The Associated Press.
As Myanmar remains under a cloud of ethnic conflict and the Kachin Christians remain trapped in a situation that looks unlikely to be quickly resolved, the Burmese military may not need assistance as much as a strong message to consider how the consequences of its violent actions will affect the future of its nation and its people.