Myanmar: pastors freed, and others flee

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Burma/Myanmar released two Christian Kachin pastors last week who were jailed for helping journalists report that a church had been destroyed by an airstrike, the Telegraph reported. They were accused of defaming the military.

“Everyone is praying for them and encouraging them,” said their attorney.

“Now we are free and we feel happy,” said Pastor Dumdaw Nawng Lat. “I hope our land will be peaceful in the future so that this kind of thing would not happen again.”

They were freed in a mass pardoning of 8490 prisoners as part of a New Year celebration tradition.

Days later, leaders of the Christian Kachin community begged for urgent medical help and food for over 2,000 people trapped in the jungle, including pregnant women and elderly, reported the Associated Press. They fled fighting from Myanmar’s army.

The government and military have restricted humanitarian aid and access to displaced people. Kachin leaders say three people have been killed by the army’s mortar shells and airstrikes since April 11.

Myanmar’s military also breached a ceasefire agreement with the Karen community. Troops have bulldozed farmland, causing people to flee in fear of what will come next. Past brutal campaigns consisted of killings, rapes, and capturing men to serve as porters for soldiers.

The Karen Peace Support Network released video and interviews with displaced Karen in the conflict areas.

“We have fled our villages and are scattered and hiding in the jungle,” said one leader as he prayed with a group wearing headbands with the handwritten word “Peace”. People stamped their handprints on a banner declaring “Prayer for Genuine Peace.”

“Peace means no more running. Now we are hiding in the jungle and sleeping under trees,” he said.

Three Karen refugee families, including nine children, who managed to cross the border into Thailand after escaping were turned back by Thai authorities, reported the Karen Peace Support Network. Over 2,400 people from 12 villages have fled and are hiding in the forests.

The UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar warned in March:

“As the world’s attention is drawn to the recent crisis [with Rohingya] in Rakhine State, scant attention has been afforded to continued and escalating violence in Kachin, Shan and other conflict affected States in Myanmar. These armed conflicts continue to have a devastating impact on civilian populations, with clashes occurring in close proximity to civilian areas and internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps.”

Christian Freedom International’s (CFI) students have returned to their villages to help their families. Several had stayed behind after the school year ended in March (Burma Military Attacks Cause Trouble for Karen Students).

CFI students are trained in emergency first aid according to Army medics’ guidelines.