Churches and clergy in the crossfire as junta attacks Burma’s Chin state

26-Oct-2021 Intellasia | The Telegraph | 5:02 AM Print This Post

Myanmar’s military has been accused of torching and occupying churches and killing and detaining pastors in its latest brutal offensive in the majority-Christian Chin state on the northwest border with India.

The deliberate targeting of religious institutions and the clergy comes amid a growing humanitarian disaster in the conflict-ridden country’s border regions and escalating clashes between the junta which seized power in a February coup and ad hoc guerrilla groups and long-standing ethnic armies.

Chin State, which has seen some of the strongest resistance since the coup and has a 90 per cent Christian population, has become the most recent flashpoint, with the United Nations, activists and insurgent groups warning of an ominous build-up of troops and military equipment that could herald a major assault.

“The situation in North-Western Burma today has some echoes of the situation in Rakhine State in 2017 before the military offensive against the Rohingya,” said Anna Roberts, from Burma Campaign UK.

The military’s brutal ethnic cleansing operation in that state prompted a mass exodus of the Muslim minority into Bangladesh, many of whom still languish in huge refugee camps with no hope of returning home safely.

On Thursday, Christine Schraner Burgener, the UN special envoy for Myanmar, said the country was already facing “an internal armed conflict” and warned specifically that the military was conducting clearing operations in Chin.

In recent months the military has stepped up attacks in the region of some 480,000, with jets bombing towns, army raids on villages and heavy artillery being used against civilian targets, forcing tens of thousands to flee their homes.

Churches have been caught in the crossfire.

According to the August-September report of the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO), at least seven churches across five of Chin’s townships were damaged or destroyed due to deliberate shelling and small arms fire by soldiers, although some have cited higher figures.

One young pastor was shot and killed, while two others were arrested and detained and are feared tortured under army custody. A church in Mindat Township was occupied by troops who ripped up Bibles and threw them on the floor.

Earlier this month, troops stormed Rialti village, near the state’s capital of Hakha, after the anti-junta Chin Defence Force militia had reportedly attacked a military convoy in nearby Falam township.

Most villagers fled before the troops arrived but U Sang Hnin, 72, watched from his hiding place in a bomb shelter in his yard as soldiers alighted from about 40 trucks, fired their guns, and set homes alight before turning to the Baptist church where villagers had worshipped for some 50 years.

“They camped at my uncle’s house, not far from the bomb shelter. They were noisy and I could hear voices. As they were about to leave the village, they set fire to a church on one side of the road. The remaining five houses were also set on fire,” he told The Telegraph.

“There were 14 houses in the village, including the church. There are only three houses left. We are deeply saddened by the deliberate burning of the church,” he said, adding that the troops also plundered homes, stealing TVs, furniture and motorbikes.

“The burning of churches and the burning of homes were not the result of fighting but deliberate arson. This is really an insult. They do not care about our religion,” said Rev. Dr Law Ha Lin, general secretary of the Chin Baptist Convention.

“In the current situation, communities are seen as enemy camps or people as enemies,” he said.

For decades, the military has unleashed its ruthless tactics against ethnic minorities who live along the war-torn borders with Thailand, China and India.

Insurgent groups that have long battled the military in those areas have been supportive of pro-democracy protesters and the growing patchwork of so-called “People’s Defence Forces” that have sprouted as the entire country rises against the coup.

In response, Myanmar’s army already linked to alleged crimes against humanity during its crackdown on the Rohingya community in Rakhine State in 2017 has now intensified its bombardment on minority areas, including Chin State.

“The military in Myanmar have pursued an extreme Burman Buddhist nationalist agenda for decades, which has led them to particularly persecute ethnic and religious minorities, especially Christians and Muslims,” said Benedict Rogers, senior analyst for East Asia at Christian Solidarity Worldwide.

“Of course, the regime suppresses all dissent and opposition, but it targets religious minorities with especially severe brutality. In addition, Christianity is very much at the heart of Chin identity and churches are very influential in Chin society, so they are targeted for this reason too.”

In September, the gunning down of Cung Biak Hum, 31, a pastor and young father, stunned the Christian community.

He was shot in the head as he rushed to help people save their homes when troops raided his hometown of Thantlang and set it ablaze. Friends who fetched his body by the roadside discovered soldiers had hacked off his finger to steal his wedding ring.

The pastor’s murder was the latest example of the “living hell being delivered daily by junta forces,” Thomas Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, wrote on Twitter.

The CHRO reports the conflict in Chin has already prompted 30-35,000 people to flee to Mizoram State in neighbouring India, as well as internally displacing about 20,000 people in Mindat Township, central Chin, who now live in desperate conditions lacking food and medical care.

Up to 10,000 people have deserted Thantlang, leaving a handful of frightened households in the ruins.

Among them, U No Hei, is sheltering from bombs and gunfire while trying to care for his elderly mother, who suffering heart disease, and her friend, who is fighting tuberculosis.

The tiny group are surviving on rainwater and trying to eke out their remaining three bags of rice.

“If they (military) find us hiding in our town now, I think they will arrest or kill us,” he said in a phone interview. “About a month from now, we will run out of medicine. I do not know what will happen then. I hope people from this town will return.”

But many fear the worst is yet to come.

Salai Za Uk Ling’s, the CHRO’s deputy executive director, warned unprecedented numbers of troops had arrived after the army threatened to turn Chin State into ashes, and appealed to the international community to keep a close eye on events.

“There seems to be a desire to make Chin State an example, to show if people fight against the military in Myanmar, they will end it,” he said.

https://sg.news.yahoo.com/churches-clergy-crossfire-junta-attacks-010643987.html

 

Category: Regional

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