Ethnic Kachin Christians live under duress (feature)

The Christian majority, who make up over one million ethnic Kachin Christians in northern Burma of a population of 47 million in the country, have to live under all forms of duress and systematic human rights abuses by the Burmese ruling junta.

The construction of new Churches and land grants to it have been legally restricted by the Burmese ruling junta also called the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) which assumed power in 1988, said local Church sources.

Permission for constructing Churches and land grants are difficult to get however the Churches try to get it from local authorities, state authorities and up to the country's Ministry of Religion, according to Kachin Church sources in Kachin state.

At the moment, the buildings in the Anglican Church in Tatkone (Dapkawng) quarter in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state has been stopped from further construction and a poster banning the work was pasted on the building by the Township Municipal Office.

According to Church sources, construction of the building was started in 2000 but it has been officially banned as an illegal building in October 2006 by the Township Municipal Office.

After the ban, the Church had tried to get construction permission from the junta several times but failed, added Church sources.

On the other hand, permission is needed from local junta authorities by all Christian churches in the state whenever they want to hold regular religious celebrations, meetings and fellowships programs with mass or a small number of followers inside and outside Church precincts, said Church sources.

Church authorities in Putao have been told to ask for permission for holding even traditional Christian wedding parties and inter-church meetings by regime officials in Putao District.

Besides, local Christian students are forced to write down their religion as Buddhists first by filling in the given forms when they register in the junta's boarding schools which provide free education called Development of Border Areas and National Races (Na-Ta-La) in Putao city, said residents of Putao.

The school has now about 60 students, and most are local Christian from the Rawang and Lisu tribes in Kachin State and they are not allowed to go back home during holidays. They are forced to practice Buddhist laws inside boarding schools as well as local Buddha festivals outside the border, added Putao residents.

Buddhist pagodas and temples in Kachin ceasefire groups

The Burmese ruling junta has forced people to construct Buddhist pagodas and temples in non-Buddhist ethnic Kachin ceasefire group areas in Kachin state and northeast Shan state in the past.

In 2001, General Khin Nyunt, former Secretary-1 and prime minister of junta official inaugurated a new Buddhist pagoda and a new temple in Kawnghka, headquarters of the Kachin Defence Army (KDA) led by Mahtu Naw, which is eight miles east of Kutkai in northeast Shan state.

The KDA leader Mahtu Naw was pressurized to build the Buddhist pagoda and temple as a memorial of successful relationship between them by General Khin Nyunt, said KDA sources.

Mahtu Naw was then awarded more teak permits to export to the Sino-Burma border by General Khin Nyunt, added KDA sources.

Mahtu Naw led KDA broke away from the mother Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) in 1990 and signed a permanent ceasefire agreement with the ruling junta on January 13, 1991.

Similarly, another Kachin ceasefire group called New Democratic Army-Kachin (NDA-K) had to build a new pagoda and a new temple in its headquarters Pangwah near the Sino-Burma border in eastern Kachin state because of pressure from General Khin Nyunt.

The pagoda and temple were also opened by General Khin Nyunt, former Secretary-1 and the deposed Prime Minister of junta in 1999.

The NDAK also split from the mother KIO in 1968 and signed a permanent ceasefire agreement with the junta on December 15, 1989.

After General Khin Nyunt was purged by the junta, the relations between the two Kachin ceasefire groups and the junta got worse and the groups have been pressurized politically and economically by the ruling junta, said sources from the two groups.

(Nawdin Lahpai is editor of Kachin News Group, KNG)