Two Kachin Pastors Remain Missing

By Seamus Martov 6 January 2017

The whereabouts of Nawng Latt and Gam Seng, two Kachin pastors who disappeared on Christmas Eve in the battle-scarred northern Shan State town of Mong Ko after being summoned by the army, remain unknown.

The two men had helped journalists from Rangoon (including those from The Irrawaddy) report on the situation in Mong Ko, the site of recent heavy fighting between the Burma Army and a coalition of ethnic armed groups. They are affiliated with the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), the largest church group operating among the largely Christian Kachin community.

Zau Ra, a KBC official based in Lashio, told The Irrawaddy that although his organization was very concerned for the safety of his missing colleagues, the current security situation in Mong Ko has not enabled them to mount a search for the pair.

“No one dares to go and search for them. So, we do not know what their condition is,” said Zau Ra. The KBC and relatives of the missing men reported their disappearance at a police station in Mong Ko on Tuesday.

“We brought witnesses as well when we filed the case. Those witnesses saw them traveling before they went missing,” said Zau Ra.

According to Zau Ra, army officials stationed in Mong Ko summoned the pair in order to assist in facilitating the release of local people who had been detained at a hill base in Mong Ko. The two have not been seen since they left for the appointment.

“We have witnesses and we know what they went for. But, no one has dared to talk to the army about it,” said Zau Ra, who added that his organization would hold a meeting soon to discuss what follow-up steps to take.

He added that the disappearance was difficult to comprehend.

“They have no enemies,” Zau Ra said. “They get along with everyone. I saw them enjoying time with [government] troops during the harvest festival before the clashes. I was surprised that they went missing.”

Located near the China-Burma border in Muse Township, Mong Ko was the scene of heavy fighting between the Burma Army and Northern Alliance forces beginning in late November. The Northern Alliance held the town briefly and captured the leader of a local pro-government militia, in what was seen as a major embarrassment for the military.

Heavy bombardment from government forces—which included airstrikes—eventually dislodged the Northern Alliance from Mong Ko. The UN has estimated that the recent fighting in and around Mong Ko forced as many as 15,000 people to flee to China.

Catholic church officials maintain that the heavy damage inflicted on the St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Mong Ko was the result of government airstrikes, a charge disputed by the Burma Army.

The Northern Alliance consists of the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Arakan Army (AA), and the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO). None of the groups signed the 2015 nationwide ceasefire agreement with the government.

Nan Lwin Hnint Pwint contributed to this report.