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A Special Report by ICC
11/9/2013 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern) – The unresolved conflict between ethnic groups and government forces in Myanmar is forcing Kachin Christians to live in deplorable conditions as refugees and to be targeted as victims of religious persecution.
Forced Displacement of Christians in Myanmar
On Oct. 30, new fighting erupted in the southern Kachin State, despite ongoing talks between the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and government negotiators. “Peace negotiations are taking place at high level but exchanges of fire are still taking place at the foot soldiers’ level and I wonder why this is happening,” says Rev. Sai Naw, the General Secretary of the Kachin Baptist Church in Mai Khaung village.
As a result of the fresh fighting, about 1,000 people were forced to flee their homes. According to sources at relief camps near Mansi, in the state’s Bhamo district, the occupants of 10 villages fled after the fighting erupted, typifying the trend of forced internal displacement of the Christian Kachin people that has accompanied the conflict for more than two years.
On Oct. 27, another clash erupted near Namt Lin Par village in the township in Ba-Maw District, as three battalions of government troops totaling 300 soldiers, advanced in the area, according to Mizzima, a Myanmar News Agency. Residents of four villages in the township have been trapped by the fighting.
It is not possible to get food to the families in the four villages. The villagers cannot go anywhere. They cannot leave their villages. We planned to deliver sacks of rice donated by an NGO, but now it’s impossible because government troops are blocking us,” said Vice Major Joon Aung, Commander of a battalion in the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the armed wing of the KIO.
Such situations are common in the conflict between the KIA and the government. In June 2011, the deterioration of a 17-year ceasefire between the KIA and the government led to renewed fighting between the two groups until January this year.
Since then, thousands have been killed and more than 100,000 Kachins have been forced to live in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps. More than 90% of the Kachins are Christian, and so are most of the people living in these camps, 60,000 of whom are sheltered at the Sino-Myanmar border or other areas under Kachin rebel control, and 40,000 in areas under government control.
Violence Against Churches and Christian Women
In one of the worst ethnic conflicts in the nation’s history, since its independence in 1948, more than 60 Christian churches have been burnt down in the Kachin state, according to the Kachin Women’s Association of Thailand (KWAT).
On May 15., Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) released a new report on human rights in Myanmar, following a four-week fact-finding trip to the country, which noted that “the testimonies provided by internally displaced Kachin people during the visit included some of the worst accounts of human rights violations CSW has ever documented.”
One Kachin former prisoner described the torture he endured during interrogation, including being hung upside down for a day and a night, beaten and attacked with knives. “They put a hand grenade in my mouth and threatened to pull the pin…then they put a plastic bag over my face and poured water over it,” he told CSW.
The wife of one current Kachin prisoner described seeing her husband after he had been tortured. She said, “He was covered in blood, and his nose was broken…An iron bar was rubbed along his legs…He was told that as he was a Christian, he should kneel on very sharp stones with his arms outstretched like Christ on the cross…
Recent investigations by rights groups, including Fortify Rights and Human Rights Watch (HRW), reveal that cases of serious abuses including extrajudicial killings, forced labor and rape have been carried out by Burma Army units, according to Karen News.
On 15. Feb, Julia Marip, speaking at a seminar at Chiang Mai University, Thailand, said that KWAT had continuing evidence of systematic rape by Myanmar troops against Kachin and other ethnic women. She said KWAT had recorded 30 incidents where 64 women or girls had been sexually assaulted in Kachin State since the conflict began.
But there could be many more cases that we have not been able to document,” she said, explaining that NGOs were unable to make contact with many rural areas and villages under government control. “Half of those women raped were killed afterward,” she said.
Christian Persecution and the Conflict in Myanmar
It’s hard to separate the ethnic conflict in Myanmar from religiously motivated violence against Christians. In its 2012 report, the US Commission on International Religious Freedom named Myanmar in a list of 16 countries guilty of “heinous and systematic” offenses. Christians are the group under the most attack in each of these nations and Myanmar seems to be living up to its billing.
In mid-October, leaders of the KIO and the government agreed on a plan for the further reduction of hostilities and new arrangements for the resettlement of displaced civilians. But the roots of the conflict in Myanmar run much deeper into a deep-seated bias against Christianity, which is seen as a western religion that threatens the government’s interests. Aside from the ethnic conflict in Myanmar, the government’s ideological conflict with Christianity is an issue that seems far from being resolved in the near future.