Missing Kachin Pastors Confirmed Detained by Burma Army

By Lawi Weng & Rik Glauert 20 January 2017

The Burma Army confirmed on Thursday the arrest of two Kachin pastors, Nawng Latt and Gam Seng, who disappeared on Christmas Eve in the conflict-torn northern Shan State town of Mong Ko.

The two Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC) pastors were arrested in Mong Ko on Dec. 24 at 6:30pm and are accused of acting as “financial-supporter, informer, recruiter, [and] rumor-monger” for ethnic armed groups during the Northern Alliance’s offensives in November and December, according to a statement from the Ministry of Defense.

The Burma Army said the pair were investigated in line with Section 376 of Burma’s Constitution, which states that no person can be detained for more than 24 hours without charge except “on precautionary measures taken for the security of the Union or prevalence of law and order, peace and tranquility.”

According to the statement, the “two arrestees could not be detained under investigation by opening files of lawsuits” as there were ongoing military clashes in Mong Ko, and there was no functioning police force in the town at that time.

The two men had assisted journalists from Rangoon (including those from The Irrawaddy) to report on the situation in Mong Ko, the site of heavy fighting between the Burma Army and the Northern Alliance—a coalition of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA).

Despite multiple requests for information from the KBC—including a letter to the State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—the pair’s whereabouts remained unknown for nearly a month.

A Lashio-based KBC official, Zau Ra, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that the pastors’ friends and family were surprised to learn the news from a military statement.

“We were all worried that they had been killed,” he told the Irrawaddy.

Zau Ra strongly rejected the Burma Army accusations that the two men assisted the KIA by informing them of Burma Army information, recruiting troops, and transporting fuel.

“They only helped the wounded. They did not support the [ethnic armed groups],” he asserted.

The KBC have contacted the Burma Army to request that the two men be handed over to Mong Ko police as soon as possible.

Zau Ra also noted the timing of the Burma Army’s statement; it came on the two-year anniversary of the double rape and murder of two Kachin teachers—purportedly by Burma Army soldiers.