By BosNewsLife Asia Service
VIENTIANE, LAOS (BosNewsLife)– Scores of terrified villagers faced starvation in the jungles of Laos on Sunday, February 27, after they were driven from their village at gunpoint for refusing to give up Christianity in this predominantly Buddhist nation, residents and rights activists said.
Laotian authorities reportedly destroyed crops to prevent food from reaching the group of over 60 impoverished Christians in a rugged terrain of Saravan province. One man from the group has already died during this time, said Britain-based advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW).
“The wells are drying up as they are going into the dry season, and their food supplies are exhausted after villagers thwarted their attempts to plant new crops,” warned Human Rights Watch for Lao Religious Freedom (HRWLRF), another group investigating the situation. “The authorities have successfully gotten them into a situation where they feel defeated.”
Eighteen families are now living in a temporary camp outside Katin village of Ta-Oyl district in Laos’ Saravan province since they were marched from their village at gunpoint in two separate incidents in 2010, rights activists told BosNewsLife.
“Village officials are refusing to allow the Christians to enter the village to farm their land. An area that had been farmed around the camp has been destroyed,” CSW said. .
“Village officials have instructed families in surrounding villages not to help or provide food for the group, who lack access to adequate food, water and sanitation facilities, and medical treatment. It is reported that the villagers believe these tactics are an attempt to starve them in order that they give up their Christian faith.”
Initially, 11 families were driven from the village at gunpoint during a worship service in January 2010, before a further seven families of new Christian converts were driven out in December last year, CSW explained. “Despite international advocacy on the case, the dire situation has not improved.”
Last year Ta-Oyl District Head, identified as Bounma, spoke to the Christians encouraging them to to renounce their Christian beliefs, CSW said.
Bounma reportedly said that while the Lao Constitution provided protection for freedom of religion and belief, he did not allow Christianity in his district. He allegedly threatened the group with expulsion from the district if they refused to renounce their faith.
There was no immediate comment from local officials, but a BosNewsLife team established earlier in Laos that Christians face persecution from authorities, with reports of raids and torture.
Theravada Buddhism is the dominant religion in Laos and Christians say religious minorities can face harassment.