Another Catholic priest arrested by the Burmese army
Father Aung Ling from the diocese of Hakha was arrested Wednesday in the town of Kanpetlet on suspicion of providing food to a civil resistance group. He was released later.
By Robin Gomes
The Burmese army raided a Catholic parish house in western Chin state and arrested a priest suspected of supporting a civil resistance group. Father Michael Aung Ling and a boarder were arrested around 8 a.m. on June 16 in the grounds of St. Michael’s Church in the town of Kanpetlet, the parish of the diocese of Hakha, the state capital. .
After finding sacks of rice stored in the parish house, the soldiers suspected the priest of providing food to the Chinland Defense Force (CDF). After interrogating him for 11 hours and having him sign a letter of engagement, the army released the priest.
The coup d’état and ethnic conflicts
The impoverished nation of Southeast Asia has been plunged into chaos since the February 1 military coup that overthrew the elected government and detained its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Protests and strikes against the coup have crippled parts of the economy.
The coup rekindled Myanmar’s old conflicts between the military and some of the armed ethnic organizations as well as independent civilian resistance groups. The groups use homemade guns and weapons.
The CDF are one of the many armed ethnic organizations that fight the army. Following a CDF ambush that resulted in heavy casualties among junta forces in the town of Mindat, some 48 kilometers from Kanpetlet, the military imposed martial law on May 13. The next day, around 30 soldiers attacked the Church of the Sacred Heart in MIndat and searched the parish house where three young priests were staying, according to religious sources.
Kanpetlet is part of several communes, including Mindat and Hakha, where more than 18,000 displaced people are accommodated in 74 centers. The intense fighting sent nearly 50,000 people to flee into the jungles.
Other priests arrested
Father Aung Ling’s arrest came three days after the weekend arrest of 6 priests in the Archdiocese of Mandalay. Bro. Dominic Jyo Du, Vicar General of the Archdiocese of Mandalay told Vatican News Agency Fides that on the night of June 12-13, soldiers raided the church complex of the ‘Assumption and the adjoining house of the clergy. They arrested the parish priest and other priests who were visiting him, carrying out a thorough search of the enclosure.
With the arrival of the army, many villagers fled into the forest in panic and did not return home until the next day. Paid informants are used by the army to arrest protesters and insurgency militias. Church sources in Chin State claim that the information about Father Aung Ling has been proven to be false.
Last week, the military also arrested a priest from Banmaw Diocese in Kachin state on his way from Banmaw to Myitkyina. He was released four days after the intervention of Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam. The military also attacked churches in Kachin state and at least five Catholic churches in the Diocese of Pathein in the Irrawaddy Delta in April.
Christians and ethnic conflicts
Christians are a minority in this predominantly Buddhist country, accounting for 6.2 percent of its 54 million people. Myanmar Catholics make up about 1.5 percent of the population.
The areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Kayah ethnic groups, which have suffered oppression and persecution from the military for decades, are largely Christian. It is estimated that a third of Myanmar’s territory – mainly border regions – is currently controlled by around 20 armed rebel groups. The army has stepped up its offensive against ethnic guerrillas and anti-coup resistance groups by deploying fighter jets and heavy artillery.
Churches under fire
Churches, convents and other places of worship have opened their doors to fleeing civilians, especially the elderly, children, women, the sick and the disabled, regardless of religion and race. Some of these churches deemed safe by the displaced were bombed by the military.
Three churches in the Diocese of Loikaw were hit by military shelling in less than two weeks, with the May 23 attack on the Church of the Sacred Heart leaving four dead and eight injured despite white flags flying above the church. In the diocese of Pekhon, around 10,000 people are taking refuge in five churches, while four parishes in Mobye township have been totally abandoned due to intense fighting. The Sacred Heart Cathedral and the Marian Shrine in the Southern Diocese of Shan State were also the target of military bombardments last month.
A source from the Diocese of Pekhon in Shan State told Fides that the army destroyed tons of rice stored to feed internally displaced people in the village of Loi Ying Taungche, near the town of Moebye. The source said the military in its offensive against protesters and insurgents was following its “four-cut policy”: cutting off all access to food, communications, transportation and finance.
Myanmar’s Catholic bishops issued a statement on June 11 calling for places of worship to be spared and those seeking refuge there to be protected. They urged that international sanctuary standards regarding neutral places during conflict, such as churches, pagodas, monasteries, mosques, temples, schools and hospitals be observed.
Humanitarian corridors to conflict zones
Thousands of civilians who have sought the safety of the jungles, instead, lack food and other basic needs and are starving to death, the bishops said. “We all implore to allow the humanitarian corridor to reach the hungry masses wherever they are”, pleaded the bishops. (Source: UCA News, Fides)