Escalating violence in Myanmar has left almost 7,000 Christians without homes. Beginning in April, a renewed wave of fighting between the northern state rebel militants the “Kachin Independence Army” (KIA) and government forces has driven scores of families from their homes.
Though the war in Myanmar has become heavily associated with the Rohingya crisis, there are also thousands of Christians suffering in the northern regions as a result of the ongoing civil conflict. Shockingly, the area continues to be overlooked by most of the mainstream international media.
Despite the marked lack of publicity surrounding the plight of Christians in Myanmar, the situation in Kachin State has become so severe that the UN has finally started to take notice. “What we are seeing in Kachin state over the past few weeks is wholly unacceptable, and must stop immediately,” Yanghee Lee, the UN’s human rights expert for Myanmar, said last week, according to The Guardian. “Innocent civilians are being killed and injured, and hundreds of families are now fleeing for their lives.”
“Today all the ethnic people from our viewpoint are just existing, they are just protecting their land and trying to share [human] rights together,” said Kachin parliamentarian Ja Seng Hkawn Maran.
Elsewhere in Kachin State, civilians have been seen fleeing their towns and villages on the backs of elephants as gunfire and government fighter jets approach their communities.
“Many remain trapped in areas of active fighting, with extremely difficult escape routes through mountains and forests, and in need of humanitarian support,” said Rupert Colville, spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. “We urge all sides to exercise restraint and to fully respect human rights and international humanitarian law, ensuring the protection of civilians at all times.”
Various other local human rights organizations are outraged by the persecution. “Myanmar’s peace process is dictated by the Myanmar military at the barrel of a gun. It’s the violent pacification of ethnic nationalities,” said David Baulk, a Myanmar human rights specialist at Southeast Asia-based organization “Fortify Rights.”
The decimated area is in dire need of humanitarian aid. But when asked about aid agencies being granted access to the thousands of stricken civilians, Zaw Htay, the main Myanmar government spokesman, reportedly declined to comment. This is the same man who, when asked about the government’s brutal response to fleeing civilians, answered: “if they are going to harm you, you can shoot them.”
More photos of civilians in Kachin State, Myanmar, leaving the Injangyang area today because of fighting pic.twitter.com/Gq2yZ5uWzk
— Mark Cutts (@MarkCutts) April 27, 2018
Political analyst and writer Stella Naw is perplexed by the lack of response from the international community to the mass exodus of Christians from the northern state. “It’s a war where civilians are being systematically targeted by members of Burma Army … [yet] the international community chooses to overlook it,” she wrote.
“It is an invisible war,” said San Htoi, the joint secretary of Kachin Women’s Association Thailand. She highlighted that the recent United Nations security council visit only included Rakhine state. “They left the country without knowing [about Kachin],” she noted.
One of those who was been forced to flee Kachin, U Thein Soe, told the Guardian that he is incredibly fearful for the future.
“At first I didn’t have plans to leave. But all my friends and neighbours started to move,” he said. “About 80% fled to China and the rest decided to move to Myitkyina. Now my village is like a scene from a horror movie.”
In light of relentless persecution, many young people have been turning to cheap forms of heroin, creating a drug addiction epidemic. Nhkum Tang Goon, Myitkyina secretary for the anti-drug vigilante group Pat Jasan, described the situation as nothing short of a “slow genocide.”
“The government has a purpose,” he says. “We feel it is … ethnic cleansing.”
“We urge the Burmese government and military to stop this offensive, and to begin a genuine political dialogue with the Kachin and other ethnic groups. We call on the international community to condemn the bombing of religious and educational centres, and to press the government of Burma to allow unhindered humanitarian access to all parts of Kachin and northern Shan States,” said Christian Solidarity Worldwide Chief Executive Mervyn Thomas, as reported by Premier UK.
Myanmar has been engaged in various forms of civil conflict ever since it was granted independence from the United Kingdom and established as the “Union of Burma” back in 1948. The conflict has been classed as the world’s longest-running civil war.
Pray for all those fleeing the violence, and ask God that he might bring peace to the region.