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[vc_row][vc_column][vc_custom_heading text=”” use_theme_fonts=”yes”][vc_column_text]12/18/2019 Washington D.C. (International Christian Concern)International Christian Concern (ICC) has learned that churches in Myanmar that were previously shut down began to reopen last week. The churches in Wa State were ordered to be closed last year as part of a campaign to suppress Christianity by the rebel United Wa State Army (UWSA).

Beginning in September 2018, the UWSA, the largest armed ethnic group with close ties to China, began to detain Christian leaders and shut down dozens of churches and religious schools. They also questioned pastors, bishops, and nuns about their activities.

In addition, in order to restrict foreign missionaries and root out “religious extremists,” the UWSA also demanded that all religious leaders must be residents of the Wa region and conduct their work only with the permission of local authorities.

According to Radio Free Asia (RFA), 52 Baptist churches are now back in operation. A source familiar with the situation confirmed to ICC that churches that are non-Wa, such as Lahu and Kachin, have also been reopened.

Rev. Dr. Lazarus, bishop of the Lahu Baptist Convention in Wa State, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that restrictions on churches closed by the UWSA began to lift in September in Hotaung, Mei Pauk, and Pansang townships.

“All of our churches finally opened last week, and only a Bible study school is left still closed in Hotaung,” he said. “We don’t know why they will not allow this one to reopen yet. I would like to appeal to them to reopen the school.”

Meanwhile, four Catholic schools in the Maingmaw, Winkhaung, and Panwaing townships remain closed, according to the bishop of Lashio, Father Philip Lasap Za Hawng.

“We haven’t visited these areas in the Wa region, since the authorities haven’t invited us to go there,” he said. “I heard that the Wa authorities are using the religious school where priests and nuns once lived for their own purposes.”

Asia News also reports that no Catholic churches currently operate in UWSA-controlled areas, and many religious schools and residences have been converted for secular use, according to Father Mariano Soe Naing, director of the Office for Social Communication of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar.

“We heard that the authorities converted the school in Winkhaung into a police station, and that they bulldozed the school in Maingmaw. We don’t know what the latest status of these buildings is,” he added.

Gina Goh, ICC’s Regional Manager for Southeast Asia, said, “We rejoice with the Christians in Wa State who are finally able to worship in their own churches after months of waiting. This news is especially encouraging as Christians around the world get ready to celebrate Christmas. We, however, continue to call on the UWSA to fully respect religious freedom and allow people of all faiths to worship freely.”[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text css=”.vc_custom_1576694889018{margin-bottom: 0px !important;}”]

For interviews, please contact Olivia Miller, Communications Coordinator: [email protected]