At least five Christian clergymen have been killed and four others have been in custody in Myanmar since the military seized power in a coup, highlighting how the junta has targeted religious leaders over the years. Last 10 months.
Salai Za Op Lin, deputy executive director of Chin Human Rights Group, told RFA’s Myanmar service that most of the victims were from Kanpetlet, Mindat, Matupi and Thantlang townships in Chin state.
“Our records show that there are nine Christian leaders, including pastors, who suffered at the hands of the junta. Five of the nine people were killed, ”he said.
“Similar things are happening in the Magway region outside of Chin State.”
Um Kee, a 30-year-old pastor from Otpo village in Kanpetlet, was arrested at his home on December 11. Two days later, residents found his body near the Pan Laybyay Hotel.
A resident, who requested anonymity, told RFA that Um Kee was stabbed in the abdomen and shot in the head.
“He was reportedly taken for questioning. We knew he had been arrested. His body was found on the side of the road the next day, ”said the resident.
“His abdomen was sliced with knife wounds and he had a big head injury. “
Salai Ngwe Kyar, a Christian pastor from the village of Thekkedaung, Saetottara township in Magway, was arrested on December 6 on the pretext that he belonged to the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces (PDF) militia by soldiers of the local regiment n ° 20. Residents said he died at Magway Hospital on December 9 from injuries sustained during questioning.
The army also arrested Naing Kone, a pastor from Ngalai Village in Matupi County, on September 23. It was only on November 17 that his family was informed of his death, according to residents.
Kyon Byat Hom, a clergyman who went to help put out a fire in a house in Thantlang following clashes between the military and fighters with the Chin Defense Force (CDF), was shot dead on September 19. .
Speaking to RFA, junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun denied that pastors died during interrogation, adding that reports that a Christian leader Chin was killed by the army were bogus and that he had been “killed in the crossfire” between government troops and the CDF.
“One day there was a shooting. A Christian leader attended the scene of the shooting and was killed. We don’t know whose bullets caused his death. He was buried, “he said.
“Later it was said that his ring had been cut off from his fingers at the burial site. We can prove that we did not do such a thing. The burial was carried out by members of the church. These kinds of allegations will always be there. We want to be friends with all religions.
“Unacceptable” acts against religion
Myanmar was plunged into a political crisis on February 1 when the military seized power from the democratically elected government of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in a coup. Since then, the military has killed at least 1,377 civilians and arrested nearly 8,300 others, mostly during widespread peaceful protests by the junta. The army has also launched offensives against several armed ethnic groups and pro-democracy militias in remote border areas of the country.
In Chin state, where the military is fighting the CDF, government troops have set up camp in Christian Chin churches and in some cases destroyed religious buildings with heavy artillery or arson, residents say. . The Chin Human Rights Group estimates that more than 30 churches were destroyed in Chin State in the 11 months following the coup.
Venerable Ngun Htaung Man, head of the Association of Chin Baptists, called it “unacceptable” that religious leaders have been killed and sacred sites destroyed under junta surveillance.
“These things should never have happened. It insults religion and creates racial problems,” he said, noting that Myanmar’s predominantly Buddhist Christian population tends to be ethnic minorities.
“Religions must be mutually recognized and respected. In our opinion, the rules and regulations of international law must be observed. “
Aid to refugees is declining
Meanwhile, members of a group of nearly 250 refugees who fled the fighting in Paletwa township, Chin state, told RFA they now face challenges, including a shortage. of food, as donations have dried up since the February coup.
The refugees, who mostly belong to the Khumi and Mro ethnic groups, moved to Hmawbi County, Yangon region, after escaping clashes between the Rakhine Arakan (AA) ethnic army and the army in December 2020 After living in makeshift tents in Baytha La village of Myaung Tagar region and relying on charity for over a year, the group is now struggling to survive, they said.
“We don’t know the land and environment of this area, so we can’t cultivate anything here,” said Kan Htun, a refugee who fled his home in Kyi Lay village in Paletwa with his family to the township. Hmawbi from Yangon.
“We don’t have a job. We also don’t know how to get downtown, so we can’t go out and look for work. We just sit in our makeshift tents and now we are struggling to make ends meet. “
In addition to a food shortage, refugees in Baytha La village also face other challenges such as the inability to obtain proper documents in Hmawbi township because they had to flee without an immigration card. identity when they left Chin State.
Donors don’t feel safe
Nant Vit, a refugee who fled Paletwa, said that since the coup, very few donors have come forward to help her community. She said the nearby Khumi Emmanuel church is currently donating, but is already running out of steam.
“It’s been five months. We face difficulties to survive every day, ”she said.
“We are living on the church food supply, but I’m not sure what will happen in the future. I have neither income nor work.
Kan Lott, the church’s pastor, told RFA he has collected food for refugees from donors in the Yangon area, but said since the coup people don’t feel safer when traveling to the area.
“Previously, donors would arrive in big trucks carrying rice, cooking oil and other items for refugees,” he said.
“The bags of rice were big. Now the bags of rice they give away are small, if at all. “
Reported by the Myanmar service of RFA. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane and Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.