Dozens of Christian churches have been shut down in Eastern Myanmar in recent weeks while as many 92 Christian leaders have been detained by a rebel faction, according to the Lahu Baptist Convention.
The convention, based in the Eastern Shan state, released a statement last week condemning the actions taken by the United Wa State Army, the military wing of the de-facto ruling party of the Wa state and Myanmar’s largest ethnic rebel group.
According The Irrawaddy, a news website run by Burmese exiles living in Thailand, the convention stated in its Sept. 25 statement that at least 52 churches in the Mong Pauk Township have been closed and stripped of all Christian symbols by the UWSA. At least three churches were completely demolished.
The convention explained that the rebel faction, whose sovereignty is not officially recognized by the Myanmar military but has helped the military in its battles in the Shan state, detained the 92 Christian leaders as well as about 40 Wa students in territory it controls in the Shan state.
Although the USWA was said to have initially detained more students, its alleged to have freed the students who were not of Wa ethnicity.
“We are very worried about our members who have been detained because we have lost contact with them,” LBC spokesman, the Rev. Dr. Lazarus, told The Irrawaddy. “We heard that when they were taken, they were not allowed to take their clothes with them. The weather in Mong Pauk is cold.”
The convention fears that the UWSA is forcing the detained students to serve as soldiers in its army.
According to Lazarus, the convention has heard that the USWA plans to hold detainees until it celebrates the 30th anniversary of the USWA cease-fire with the Myanmar government in April 2019.
“The UWSA has also forcibly recruited 41 male and female students who were participating Bible study classes in various churches,” Lazarus told Radio Free Asia.
Lazarus explained that areas under UWSA control are now cut off and travel there is no longer possible.
“[W]e will hold a prayer ceremony on Oct. 7,” Lazarus explained. “We have about 400 followers, and we’ll pray for the quick release of our brethren who have been taken away.”
According to Radio Free Asia, the USWA distributed a six-point statement on Sept. 6 that, among other things, states that churches, missionaries, teachers, and clergy in its territory should be investigated. The statement also called for a list of all churches in Wa-controlled areas to be created.
Additionally, the statement demands that churches built after 1989 to be destroyed, and forbids new churches in USWA territory from being built. The statement also requires that all religious leaders be local residents of the Wa region and must have permission from the Wa government to do religious activities.
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Source: Christian Post