Mon State — The United Wa State Army (UWSA) has released more than 60 ethnic Kachin members of a local Christian group but continues to hold ethnic Lahu religious leaders, according to the group’s chairman.
“More than 60 members of our KBC [Kachin Baptist Convention] were released in the last few weeks. Some more people were also released recently, but I don’t have the latest information yet,” Reverend Samson told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.
UWSA spokesman Nyi Rang, however, said he was not aware of the situation.
“I haven’t heard about the arrests or the releases,” he said.
The KBC says the UWSA detained about 100 of its members in early September and that it plans to speak with those recently released about how they can help secure the freedom of the remaining detainees.
“We will also discuss with them how to adopt new religious policies to remain in harmony with the UWSA,” Rev. Samson said.
He conceded that the convention had made mistakes.
“We have some weaknesses. Our members did not respect their [the Wa’s] culture. The KBC also recruited many members by force,” he said.
But he added that the UWSA had also gone too far in restricting religious freedom by detaining KBC members and demanding that they completely stop promoting Christianity.
The UWSA last month detained a total of about 200 members of the KBC and Lahu Baptist Convention (LBC) as part of the armed group’s crackdown on Christian churches in areas under its control.
According to the LBC, more than 100 churches have been shuttered and that some have been razed. Its secretary-general, Reverend Lazarus, said the UWSA detained 92 of its leaders and that none have been released to date.
“The UWSA forced our school teachers to sign [statements] that they will not promote Christianity any more in the Wa region. But our members refused, so they were locked up in prison,” he said.
Based in northern Shan State close to the border with China, the UWSA is the largest ethnic armed group in Myanmar and exercise significant control over its territory.
The UWSA says it shut down the churches and detained members of the area’s Christian community because some of its leaders were religious extremists. In a Sept. 13 statement it said all churches built after 1992 were illegal because they went up without its permission and had to be destroyed.