Burma must be taken seriously, despite strong denials from the country's military rulers.
"There may be signs of major change coming to Burma," said Jim Jacobson, president of
Christian Freedom International (CFI) which has close contacts with predominantly Christian Karen people, one of the largest ethnic groups fighting government forces.
His comments came a day after the military junta of Burma, also known as Myanmar, outlawed three political groups and an ethnic army, accusing them of intending to "disrupt stability in the country."
The All Burma Students' Democratic Front, the Federation of the Trade Union of Burma, and the northeastern Shan State Army were outlawed by military decree.
In addition authorities banned the US-based National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma, made up of parliamentarians elected in a 1990 poll, which was won by the National League for Democracy but never recognized by the junta.
At a news conference in the capital Rangoon Sunday, August 28, Burma's Minister of Information Kyaw Hsan defended these actions against what the military government sees as dangerous groups.
The junta accused the All Burma Students' Democratic Front, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and neighboring Thailand of involvement in May 7 bomb blasts which killed at least 23 people and injured over 150 others at two shopping malls and a convention hall in the capital Rangoon.
Earlier this month, the military authorities reportedly released 17 ethnic Karen detained on suspicion of participating in the bombings.
Kyaw Hsan also condemned reports that ailing junta leader General Than Shwe had been deposed by his deputy, Army Commander Maung Aye, in a coup attempt. The allegations, the minister said, "were concerted efforts by dissidents, with the manipulation of foreign powers, to try to destabilize the nation by coming up with all these fabrications."
He reportedly stressed that "Myanmar is being ruled under a collective leadership with Senior General Than Shwe at the head, and he is in good health."
However "I don't believe the junta," said Jacobson. "Burma is ruled by one of the most repressive, authoritarian military regimes in the world and is a place where Christians in particular face persecution."
Reports of a coup within the military regime first aired on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) August 23 and were later picked up by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) and Voice of America (VOA). The junta accused RFE/RL and VOA of attempting to undermine the military regime by giving prominence to the BBC coup report.
Since 1999, the U.S. Secretary of State designated Burma as a "Country of Particular Concern" under the International Religious Freedom Act for what it called "particularly severe violations of religious freedom."
The current ruling State Peace and Development Council, a group of generals, has governed the Asian nation by decree since 1988 when pro-democracy protests were suppressed by the military. 1.5 million mainly Christian Karen are internally displaced after being forced from their homes by government troops, human rights watchers estimate.
The "military regime" does not like the Karen blend of Christianity, which it sees as a threat to its powerbase and ideology, according to CFI.
Jacobson said in a statement obtained by BosNewsLife News Center that CFI has urged its supporters to "pray for the people of Burma especially now," at a time of political changes. (With reports from Stefan J. Bos in Burma).