Tuesday, June 15, 2021

RLPB 602. Burma (Myanmar): War Comes to Chin and Kayah States

Religious Liberty Prayer Bulletin | RLPB 602 | Wed 16 Jun 2021
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Friday 18 June: Iran's presidential election.
Monday 21 June: Ethiopia's general elections.
Please pray.


- thousands displaced; famine looms.
by Elizabeth Kendal

Just as RLPB 590 'Christian Crisis Looms' (24 March) predicted, a Christian crisis is unfolding in Burma 'as the front-line moves outwards, from the Burman-dominated centre to the ethnic minority periphery'. Since the outset, the Karen and Kachin armies have offered protection to senior ethnic Burman dissidents and training to young ethnic Burman fighters. This has attracted the wrath of the junta, which has responded with air-strikes, displacing many thousands. Now smaller groups that do not have armies are also being punished simply for defending themselves against unprovoked Tatmadaw (Burmese military) violence. On 8 May the junta announced that essentially anyone who resists it would be placed on its list of 'terrorist organisations'.

Villagers flee from fighting in Mindat,
Chin State, 19 May 2021. (RFA, 20 May)

The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) estimates that some 40,000 predominantly Christian Chin have fled their homes in Chin State since intensive fighting erupted in mid-May. Unlike the Kachin (in the north) and Karen (in the east), the Chin (in the west, bordering Mizoram (India), do not have an army. To defend their citizens from unprovoked Tatmadaw violence, the Chin have established the Chinland Defense Force (CDF), comprised of volunteers, armed mostly with slingshots and crude flintlock 'Tumee' rifles. What they lack in firepower, the long-marginalised Chin make-up for in skill, for they are experienced hunters. Having inflicted some casualties in defence of their citizens, these reluctant fighters are now facing a typical Tatmadaw crackdown. On 12 May some 1000 Tatmadaw troops, supported by helicopter gunships, occupied Mindat Town in southern Chin State and sprayed gunfire throughout the town while using civilian captives as human shields. Fighting continued until 16 May, when the CDF withdrew. However, the peace was short-lived. Fighting resumed on 3 June after the Tatmadaw fired into camps housing internally displaced persons (IDPs). Thousands of Chin Christians are now displaced in the jungle, without food, medicines or shelter, as the rainy season sets in.

Meanwhile, in the east, an estimated 100,000 civilians have fled heavy fighting in Kayah/Karenni State, north of Kayin/Karen State, bordering Thailand. That amounts to 25 percent of the Karenni population, of which around half are Christian. Most IDPs are in the jungle without food, medicines or shelter. Seeking refuge in churches and monasteries has proved untenable, as the Tatmadaw has been targeting church properties, accusing them of harbouring terrorists. On 24 May four civilians were killed in Kayan Thar Yar village when the church in which they were sheltering was targeted by artillery.

Loi Ying village, 8 June: A local searches for
rice among the wreckage / PKPF.
 (The Irrawaddy, 11 June)

Father Celso Ba Shwe is Vicar General of the diocese of Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State, where the military has now imposed martial law. Last week he told Catholic media that his greatest fear was of 'imminent famine, given that all the access to food, goods and gasoline from outside the state of Kayah are blocked'. Unable to sow and cultivate, the people are now dependent on aid. The Irrawaddy reports that on 8 June junta forces burned 80 bags of rice, three barrels of cooking oil, dried food, medicines to treat diarrhoea, and two vehicles (including an ambulance) in Loi Ying village, Pekon Township, after fighting the day before forced locals to flee. Some 3000 IDPs are now sharing what little they have left. It seems the junta is engineering famine as a weapon of war. 'We entrust ourselves every day to God,' said Father Celso Ba Shwe, 'praying that, through these trials and difficulties, he may once again give a peaceful and prosperous life to the people of Myanmar.'

On 11 June the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) released an open letter in which it appealed for humanitarian corridors to be established so that aid might reach the many thousands of people in ethnic minority areas who are starving in jungles after fleeing their homes. Baroness Cox, Chief Executive of Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), has also appealed for 'urgent international assistance' and 'emergency cross-border humanitarian aid'. Benedict Rogers, the Senior Analyst on East Asia for Christian Solidarity Worldwide, is likewise urging the 'international community to increase pressure on the military regime to stop its reign of terror'.


* YAHWEH SABAOTH (the Lord of Hosts, the commander of Heaven's angelic armies) will protect, preserve, sustain, vindicate and glorify his precious Church in Burma.

* JEHOVAH JIREH (God our provider) will provide the Church with everything she needs to navigate, endure and survive these horrendous days of war, displacement and hunger; may humanitarian corridors be established so that food, clean water, medicines and shelter might reach those most desperately in need. May God provide world leaders with creative strategies and political will so that international pressure might be effectively applied that will force the junta to end its terror. In asking this we recognise that we are indeed requesting a miracle. Lord in your mercy, hear our prayer!

* GOD OUR REDEEMER will redeem all this suffering to break the chains of military and spiritual oppression so that Burma might emerge as a free, open and democratic federation ... for the sake of the Church and all Burma's 'harassed and helpless ... sheep without a shepherd' (Matthew 9: 35-37).

(prayer points developed from RLPB 580 (24 March))


Unlike the Kachin and Karen, neither the Chin of Chin State (85 percent Christian) nor the various tribes of Kayah/Karenni State (49 percent Christian) have an army. Instead, volunteers armed with crude weapons defend their people against unprovoked attacks. In response the junta has unleashed overwhelming military violence. Since mid-May some 40,000 predominantly Christian ethnic Chin have been displaced as the military expands its brutal war. Most of the displaced are in the forest without food, medicines or shelter. Meanwhile, up to 100,000 civilians have been displaced in Kayah/Karenni State. Churches, monasteries and camps housing the displaced have been attacked with heavy artillery. Tens of thousands are now in the forest without food, medicines or shelter as the junta blocks aid as the rainy season sets in. Please pray.


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