Tuesday, May 1, 2018

RLPB 453. Burma (Myanmar): the ethnic cleansing of the Kachin

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 453 | Wed 02 May 2018

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by Elizabeth Kendal

For decades the West used sanctions as a means to pressure Burma's military junta. Then, through the 1990s, a rising and ambitious China recognised Burma's geo-strategic value and took the opportunity to draw the isolated junta into its embrace. But as Burma grew more dependent on China (a long-time foe), the more anti-China sentiment rose in Burma, especially amongst the military elite. Over the past decade, Burma's geo-strategic value has increased in line with China's rise. This has enabled Burma to exploit its position as a 'fault-line' state, located as it is between China (to the north-east) and the US (in the Indian Ocean). To extricate itself from China's embrace, the junta reached out to the West. In exchange for a series reforms (most of which were less than satisfactory and even bogus) Burma-West relations were restored. One critical consequence of Burma's realignment was the junta's suspension of the Myitsone Dam project -- a Chinese project to dam the Irrawaddy River and send 90 percent of the hydro-power to China. The controversial and unpopular project was central to the junta's war of ethnic cleansing against the Christian Kachin; it was suspended primarily to appease the West. [See RLPB 132, Burma: interests, smokescreens & ethnic cleansing, 2 Nov 2011.] Now that Burma-West relations have essentially collapsed, the Burmese military has renewed its ethnic cleansing of the Christian Kachin.

In November 2017 the Burmese military [also known as the Tatmadaw] launched a winter (dry season) offensive to seize control of Kachin State's gold, jade and amber mines [see: RLPB 438 (17 Jan 2018) and RLPB 440 (31 Jan 2018)]. Violence has escalated during April as the military has used a combination of ground forces, heavy artillery, airstrikes and helicopter gunships -- using intelligence gleaned from drones -- to force the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) into retreat. Kachin State's most resource-rich regions are increasingly in the hands of the Burmese military, which, it must be noted, is completely autonomous and not accountable to the elected government. 

Displaced Kachin in a Kachin Baptist Church in Tanai Township

The Kachin are under heavy bombardment. On 29 April the UN reported, 'More than 5,000 people are estimated to be newly displaced since early April in Kachin State ... .' More than 15,000 have been displaced since the beginning of the year, and this is on top of the roughly 100,000 Kachin who have been admitted to camps for the displaced since the ceasefire broke down in June 2011. On 18 April Baptist community leader the Reverend Mung Dan told CBN news that amongst those trapped in the jungle were five pregnant women, two women who had just given birth, 93 elderly and many bearing shrapnel wounds; all were in dire need of medical treatment and rations. Furthermore, he noted that it had been 'raining the whole day in our region and these civilians do not have any shelter and are suffering from sickness as well'.

On 20 April the Burmese military bombarded Ka Sung village, home to some 1000 Kachin, sending them fleeing into the jungle. Church leaders from nearby Namti town, which is about 25km west of the Kachin capital, Myitkyina, managed to rescue more than 900 displaced civilians, some of whom had been in the jungle for three days. After being escorted into Namti town, the displaced were given refuge in two Catholic churches and one Baptist church. It is estimated some 2000 more Kachin remain trapped in various jungle locations. The region is closed to humanitarian aid, so all food, clothing and shelter is being provided by churches. Zau Raw heads a Kachin committee that oversees humanitarian aid in a mountainous sliver of territory that the KIA controls near the border with China. 'The army wants to wipe us out,' he said. 'This is a war to cleanse us.'

UN OCHA MAP of conflict area showing displacement (29 April).

A  Kachin mother feeds her baby at a refugee camp near Lung Byeng village
(21 Jan 2018, Radio Free Asia)

Fully cognisant of the powerlessness of the elected government, Kachin groups on Monday 23 April appealed directly to the United Nations Security Council, urging it to refer the Burmese military to the International Criminal Court, noting that the UN has been documenting the crimes of the Burmese military for decades.  FULL TEXT OF LETTER

However China -- which has big plans for Burma (i.e. mega-projects like high-speed rail, oil and gas pipelines and hydro-power in exchange for a secure corridor to the Bay of Bengal) -- has vowed to veto any resolution. The West's refusal to recognise the political realities in Burma (which is at best a quasi-democracy and at worst a military junta in disguise); along with its refusal to recognise and discuss the complexities of the crisis in Rakhine State (complexities that include predatory migration, irredentism and terrorism) have all but destroyed Burma-West relations. Consequently, 'The gloves are off.' Nothing but a divine intervention will stop the ethnic cleansing now.


* Lift up his hand to protect, preserve and sustain his largely helpless precious Kachin Church; may the Lord supply all their needs -- for security and refuge as well as for medical and food aid.

* stand against the lying, murderous, arrogant Tatmadaw (Burmese military); may the Lord break its power and call it to account so it may never again strike terror.

Pray Psalm 10 for Burma.


Since November 2017 the Burmese military has been using ground forces, aerial bombardments, heavy shelling and helicopter gunships to drive the Kachin Independence Army out of Kachin State's most resource-rich regions. Violence escalated further in early April, confirming that a war of ethnic cleansing is underway as the Burmese military seizes control of Kachin State's jade, amber and gold mines. According to the UN, some 5,000 Kachin became displaced in April alone. About 120,000 Christian Kachin are displaced in total. While thousands of the newly displaced are being sheltered in churches, thousands more remain trapped in the jungle without food, medical care or shelter. The region is closed to humanitarian aid, so all food and clothing is provided by churches. Please pray for Burma and for the Christian Kachin.


Elizabeth Kendal is an international religious liberty analyst and advocate. She serves as Director of Advocacy at Canberra-based Christian Faith and Freedom (CFF), and is an Adjunct Research Fellow at the Arthur Jeffery Centre for the Study of Islam at Melbourne School of Theology.

She has authored two books: Turn Back the Battle: Isaiah Speaks to Christians Today (Deror Books, Melbourne, Australia, Dec 2012) which offers a Biblical response to persecution and existential threat; and After Saturday Comes Sunday: Understanding the Christian Crisis in the Middle East (Wipf and Stock, Eugene, OR, USA, June 2016).

See www.ElizabethKendal.com