By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife’s Stefan J. Bos
RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife)– Burma’s military ransacked a Baptist church and broke up a Christian conference of the predominantly Christian Chin community in the latest confrontation between government forces and ethnic minorities, Christian investigators told BosNewsLife Monday, March 26.
A legislator trying to halt the violence was reportedly threatened at gunpoint.
Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), which represents the community, said the Burma Army attacked the Sin Lum Pang Mu Baptist Church in Pang Mu village, in Bhamo district, on March 13.
The church pastor Jangmaw Gam Maw said soldiers “from the 33rd battalion of the Burma Army’s 88th Infantry Division burned bibles, destroyed church property, and stole a video player, loudspeakers and villagers’ belongings.”
However soldiers reportedly claimed the properties belonged to an outpost of the autonomy seeking Kachin Independence Army, which has fought against government forces for decades. Troops allegedly also took money from the church donation boxes.
Last November, the pastor and his over 1,000-strong congretation moved from Pang Mu village to the Mai Ja Yang for internally displaced persons.
Three days earlier, on March 10, Burmese troops reportedly disrupted a Christian conference and threatened a parliamentarian at at gunpoint in western Burma’s Chin State, said CHRO.
The incident happened while over 1,000 delegates from 80 local branches of the Mara (Chin) Evangelical Church at Sabawngte village gathered in a remote area of southern Chin state’s Matupi township for the conference, which had official permission, rights activists said.
Several Burma Army soldiers raided the meeting and “rebuked the village headman for not reporting the event” to the army camp, CHRO said in published remarks.
When Pu Van Cin, a legislator from the Ethnic National Development Party, saw the soldiers confronting the village headman and tried to intervene, “he was threatened at gunpoint,” Christians said.
Benedict Rogers, the East Asia Team Leader at advocacy group Christian Solidarity Worldwide, said the incidents “illustrate that there is still a very long way to go in Burma’s reform process”.
He added that “the international community should be cautious about lifting too many sanctions too quickly.”
There have been pledges from Burma’s nominally civilian government that it seeks ceasefire agreements with ethnic groups.
Former military junta leader and now President Thein Sein made a public call for peace talks with separatists late last year.
Along with freeing political prisoners and holding fair by-elections in April, the United States and European Union have made peace with ethnic militias a pre-requisite for a review of their embargoes.
Negotiations with the powerful Kachin Independence Army have been derailed however by persistent fighting that aid groups say has displaced as many as 50,000 people.
“We urge the international community to monitor the situation closely,” Rogers told BosNewsLife “While it is certainly right to ease some sanctions in recognition of the progress made, we urge the European Union, the United States and others to do so gradually, step by step, in proportion to the developments on the ground, and
to retain some measures until further genuine change is secured.”
CSW has been among groups investigating the situation in Burma, where Rogers said, “in Rangoon and the urban areas there is atmospheric change, but not yet substantial institutional, legislative and constitutional change that will make reform irreversible.”
He added that in “the ethnic areas, crimes against humanity continue.”
Rogers said his group had urged President Thein Sein and all reform-minded officials in the Burmese government “to take action to end the military’s abuses, and to protect human rights, including religious freedom, for all.”