By BosNewsLife Asia Service with reporting by BosNewsLife's Stefan J. Bos
RANGOON, BURMA (BosNewsLife)-- Churches and Buddhist monasteries in a mining area of Burma's northern Kachin state have taken in nearly 1,000 refugees, many of them Christians, since New Year's Day, after the Burmese military reportedly attacked a church and killed several people, BosNewsLife established Tuesday, January 10.
The Kachin News Group (KNG) cited locals as saying that most refugees arrived in the Hpakant region to escape Burmese troops who launched attacks, despite President Thein Sein’s order to stop the war against insurgents.
KNG said the Lawng Hkang Kachin Baptist Church cared for 300 people while over 120 people were seen in the Maw Si Za Kachin Baptist Church. An additional 300 plus people sought shelter at the Maw Si Zar Buddhist temple and over 170 people were thought to have fled to nearby Sha-it Yang village.
Burmese soldiers have been fighting against the Kachin Independence Organization (KIO) and its rebels who have fought for autonomy in the Christian-majority Kachin state since the early 1960s, when then-Burmese Prime Minister U Nu made Buddhism the state religion.
Some 90 percent of the roughly 56 million people in Burma, also known as Myanmar, are Buddhist, mostly from the Burman ethnic group.
"ALL KACHIN ENEMIES"
Local Christians have suggested however that Burmese soldiers see “all Kachin civilians as the enemy” and that civilians are killed as well. In one of the latest attacks, soldiers from the Burmese army shot and killed an unarmed Kachin villager on Christmas Day in the Kachin State's Loije town near the border with China, villagers said.
"About 6 p.m. Maran Zau Ja and a friend were walking home from a sugar cane farm when government soldiers opened fire. Zau Ja, 47, died from his wounds, his friend survived" the bullets, KNG quoted relatives as saying.
The soldiers were identified as members of the Burmese Army ’s Light Infantry Battalion No. 321, which is stationed in the area.
Local residents denied that the two men were members of the KIO or its armed wing, the Kachin Independence Army.
Clashes have intensified between the KIA and Burmese government troops since June, when a 17 year cease fire between Burma's second largest armed rebel group and the central government ended. KNG explained.
The local Baptist church in Loije held a funeral service on December 27 for the murdered man, who leaves behind his wife and three children, friends said.
The funeral came despite threats against Baptist Christians.
Before the Christmas Day incident, troops of Light Infantry Battalion No. 142 burned a building housing the kitchen of a Baptist church in Dingga village, in Bhamo district, Kachin sources said. Though villagers prevented wider destruction of the church, the fire engulfed five wooden homes, KNG said.
Earlier, on November 30, Burmese soldiers reportedly killed a woman and injured six villagers as they fired mortar shells targeting civilians in Tarlawgyi area in Waingmaw Township.
A bishop in Burma said he has urged urged the international community to intervene on behalf of Kachin Christians, saying tens of thousands have already fled theirs homes since fighting resumed on a full scale in June.
“Many ethnic Kachin are trapped and blocked along the border, because they are rejected by China,” said Bishop Raymond Gam of Banmaw in published remarks. China borders Burma on the north.
“They cannot escape, they are severely suffering and are victims of war,” he added. “We ask the international community and foreign governments to stop the fighting immediately and to start a path of peace and reconciliation.”
Christians and rights groups have also expressed disappointment that only a fraction of the estimated hundreds of political detainees in Burma were among about 900 prisoners released last week.
About a dozen political detainees out of as many as 600 were released, said Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Party.
Suu Kyi, a leading opposition figure in the country and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said last week she would mount a campaign for a seat in parliament.
Christians of ethnic groups fighting for more rights are believed to be among those supporting her, a BosNewsLife team learned in Burma.