The United Wa State Army (UWSA) will allow churches to reopen in the areas under its control in northern Shan State after ordering them shut for several months.
Nyi Rang, a spokesperson for the UWSA based in Lashio, northern Shan State, told The Irrawaddy that the central Wa authorities had made the decision to let the churches reopen.
“They will let Lahu and Kachin churches reopen. The decision was made at [Wa leaders’] recent meeting,” said Nyi Rang.
The UWSA shut down over 100 churches run by Lahu and Kachin Christians in August and September. Nyi Rang said his group had completed its investigations into those churches and was now ready to allow them to reopen.
Lahu Baptist Convention (LBC) Secretary-General Reverend Lazarus said his group would go back to the Wa region again if the UWSA allowed it to.
“If they [the UWSA] allow us to go back there, we are ready to go. We do very simple work; we will teach our religion and reopen our schools,” Rev. Lazarus said.
He said that all churches remain closed, and no one from the LBC was currently able to stay in Wa region, as the UWSA had detained its members and expelled them from the area.
Bishop Philip Zahawng, a Catholic leader based in Lashio who used to work in the Wa region, told the BBC’s Burmese version last night that his group would ask the UWSA what regulations it intended to impose on its work in the region.
“We will go back to work there if they allow us to go. But, we would ask them whether they have proper laws for persons who work for religion in their region. They could shut down our churches once again if we do not ask about their law,” Philip Za Haung said.
No one yet knows what restrictions the UWSA has in mind for the reopened churches. The UWSA issued a statement on Dec. 9, but it was in Chinese only, according to Nyi Rang, who declined to let The Irrawaddy see it.
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.
Nyi Rang told the media in September 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.
The UWSA want ethnic Wa to function as religious leaders in the future, according to a statement it issued in August. The statement has caused concern among the Lahu and Kachin about the fate of their own Christian communities.