Lahu Baptist Group Says Leaders Detained by Wa Rebels in Shan State Released
By Lawi Weng 12 October 2018
Mon State — The United Wa State Army (UWSA) on Wednesday released 92 Lahu religious leaders the armed group detained last month during a crackdown on Christian churches in northern Shan State, according to the Lahu Baptist Convention (LBC).
LBC Secretary-General Reverend Lazarus told The Irrawaddy on Friday and the leaders were released in the evening after vowing to abandon their religious practices.
“Before they were released, they had to promise that they would not read the bible or pray anymore when they returned home,” he said.
Rev. Lazarus said the convention’s members can no longer visit the 52 LBC churches the armed group has shut down, either.
UWSA spokesman Nyi Rang could not immediately be reached for comment.
In early September the UWSA detained a total of about 200 Christian religious leaders from the LBC and Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) and shuttered more than 100 churches.
Last month, Nyi Rang told the media that the Lahu and Kachin Christian leaders had to be detained because “extremists” among them were putting the unity of the ethnic Wa people at risk by recruiting members not just from their own ethnic groups but from the Wa as well.
A statement from the UWSA last month said only ethnic Wa may function as religious leaders, leaving the area’s Lahu and Kachin worried about the fate of their own Christian communities.
“They said they were worried that unity would be destroyed. But what we found was that they didn’t understand religion,” said Rev. Lazarus.
On Tuesday, the KBC said more than 60 of its own members had been released over the past few weeks. Its chairman, Reverend Samson, conceded that the KBC had not respected Wa culture and had forced some Wa to join. But he said the UWSA had gone too far in detaining its leaders and demanding that they renounce their faith.
Northern Shan is home to several ethnic groups including Wa, Kachin, Ta’ang, Lahu, Lisu, Kokang, Shan, Chinese, and Bamar. They observe many religious beliefs including Christianity, Buddhism, Islam, animism and nat worship, though Christianity dominates.
Based in northern Shan, the UWSA is the largest ethnic armed group in Myanmar, with an estimated 40,000 fighters. The region borders Communist China, and most of the group’s leaders hold Marxist views. The UWSA split from the Burmese Communist Party in 1989 and later entered into a ceasefire agreement with the military government that ruled Myanmar at the time. It has not yet signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement but has been engaged in the national peace process with the Myanmar government and military.