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Christians flee violence by Burmese military against ethnic Kachin people

Country/Region: Myanmar, Burma, South and East Asia

Thousands of people from a mainly Christian ethnic group in Burma (Myanmar) have been forced to flee their homes amid fighting between the Burmese military and rebel troops.

Bhamo-in-Kachin-State-4X3.jpg
Bhamo in Kachin State, Burma
CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 by  Jonas Merian

The violence erupted near the Taping River by the Chinese border in June when a 17-year ceasefire between government forces and the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO), which controls the territory, was broken.

Burmese troops have cleared entire villages by threatening violence if they come under fire from the KIO’s military wing, the Kachin Independence Army (KIA).

Lum Hong, a villager from Ng Eng in central Kachin, said:

We are afraid the Burmese soldiers will be attacking our village at any time. We had to leave everything behind. Our cows, our oxen, our farmland. Everything. We don't know when it will be safe to go back.

Last month, government troops seized control of a church in the village of Katsu and turned it into a military outpost, complete with fortifications, trenches and landmines. They have also planted landmines in a schoolyard and along several main roads and taken over houses abandoned by villagers. People have increasingly been subjected to extortion, torture and looting.

Over 20,000 Kachin people are thought to have been displaced by the conflict. An estimated 10,000 have fled to the town of Laiza, where they are being sheltered in cramped conditions in relief camps. They are surviving on meagre rations, relying on donations of food and medicine from churches and individuals. Torrential rains during the monsoon season have created unsanitary conditions, making it difficult to prevent the spread of disease.

Around a further 10,000 are in makeshift camps along the Chinese border, while around 6,000 are believed to have crossed into China seeking safety with relatives.

Over 90 per cent of the 1.2 million Kachins are Christian. It is a strategically important state, lying between India and China, and also rich in resources including gold and jade mines, teakwood, rubber and banana plantations. 

Most Christians in Burma are members of non-Burman ethnic minorities; they are frequently targeted by the military, partly for their ethnicity and partly for their faith.

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