In March, the Myanmar government and 16 rebel groups signed a draft ceasefire agreement ahead of national elections scheduled for November of this year. The pact, however, failed to provide the self-determination provisions that these ethnic groups are demanding, and the civil war rages on.
Myanmar, also known as Burma, is made up of eight major and eight minor ethnic groups, each of which sought autonomy after gaining independence following World War II. In 1947, the Panglong Agreement, advanced by Aung San, father of current opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, promised all ethnic minorities a place in a new union.
Five months later, Aung San was assassinated, which triggered a civil war and ethnic rebellion that continues by these groups to this day. Among them are ethnic groups who are majority Christian, including the Kachin and the Chin. Others, such as the Karen, also have a sizeable Christian population.
The central Myanmar government continues a long-standing campaign of oppression against ethnic minorities. Operation World calls Myanmar, “a deeply fractured nation on a political and especially ethnic level.” Earlier this month, 700 people fleeing Myanmar and neighboring Bangladesh were rescued from a sinking boat that was attempting to reach Indonesia, across the Andaman Sea. Human rights groups say other boats carrying more migrants are believed to be adrift on the water.
In the Myanmar conflict zones, which span thousands of miles along the country’s borders with Thailand, China and India, some of the world’s longest-running civil wars are still being fought. The majority of Burma’s Christians live in these troubled borderlands, often amid airstrikes, armed attacks and church burnings in this Buddhist-majority nation.
Vishal Aurora reports in a video that even as the government of Burma publically negotiates a nationwide ceasefire agreement with almost all of the ethnic rebel groups, its military continues to carry out attacks. The government has also offered too few concessions to rebel groups in negotiations to end the civil war. Ethnic rebel groups fighting for self-determination in Christian-majority areas say they are attacked for being both separatist and Christian. All Christians are viewed and treated as insurgents, with unarmed Christian civilians being attacked as well as the rebels. Any Christian cultural expressions are seen as assertion of rebellion, as they’re against the Buddhist norm. As a result, suffering defines the lives of Christians and other non-Buddhist civilians.
A rescue worker explains that because Christian pastors appeal to an authority higher than the government, they are seen as a threat to which the Burma army has reacted by destroying churches. He recalled a whole village that was burned down except for one building—the church. A message was scrawled on the outside of the church: “We’re light infantry battalion [#—–] we will just scatter you.” This one church building became a warning sign to threaten anybody bold enough to come back.
While there has been a considerable easing of restriction for pastors in cities with government control, according to Ku, Buddhist monks in Chin state are still brought in and given permission to take land that was not theirs to build monasteries. Even in largely Christian areas of Chin state, believers are forced to accept monasteries and pagodas, and endure the continuous violation of their religious freedom.
This is a particularly difficult time for internally displaced people. One rescue mission team member in Karen recalled, “In my first [rescue] mission, I went to Karen State. And I see people run away from their village, as the Burma Army comes to their village. If they see [anyone], they kill people, animals or whatever. They take what they want. Also, they burn down the village. Many had to flee to the jungles and hide. During the mission, I saw how people made their home … they used to use bamboo to make the floor. But in the jungle, they didn’t have bamboo, so they used a big tree to make the floor, and they slept. [It was] very cold, as they’d have to run up to over a 6,000-foot mountain. They don’t even have enough clothes. It’s very cold. Some are very sick, but there is no medicine. People are dying and hopeless. They don’t know their future. It made me very sad.”
There are hundreds of thousands of internally displaced Christians within Burma, such as those in the Ei Htu Hta camp in Karen state, who are now living in unfinished houses made of wood and tree leaves. These are people who fled their villages after an onslaught of attacks from the Burmese military. These impoverished believers are happier in their camps in the jungles where they are far removed from military posts.
No one knows how many more years the civil war will drag on before a lasting peace accord is reached, but the ethnic rebel groups are now willing to respond to the government’s efforts to strike a nationwide ceasefire agreement. Human rights groups see this shift as a good sign.
Source: World Watch Monitor
Father, for the sake of Your Name, we call on Your hand of protection to rest on the people of Myanmar. We pray for peace in this nation, for an end to civil war and for an opening up of religious freedom. We pray for wisdom for Christians who struggle with the choice to rise up in defense or flee to the jungles. May Your Spirit guide them. For those displaced, we pray for Your provision of food and shelter and warmth, of health—and of hope. We pray for wisdom and discernment as ceasefire agreements are set up. And most of all, we pray for the truth of Your gospel to penetrate the spiritual darkness of this land with the light of Christ. In the Name of Jesus, the Prince of Peace, Amen.