Separatists in Myanmar have closed churches and detained church leaders in a clampdown on Christian activities.
The United Wa State Army, the military wing of the semi-independent Wa State, has targeted 92 Christian leaders from the Lahu ethnic group and 42 Wa students in Shan state, according to the Lahu Baptist Convention (LBC). The students have been conscripted into the army.
In a statement reported by The Irrawaddy, a news site run by Burmese exiles in Thailand, LBC said 52 churches in Mong Pauk township had been closed and stripped of all their Christian symbols. Three other churches have been demolished and Christian schools have been shut down, LBC said.
A UWSA spokesman told The Irrawaddy the leaders had been detained because there were 'extremists' among them and that they were acting against Christians to prevent them 'destabilising' the region. LBC general secretary Rev Dr Lazarus, said: 'We are very worried about our members who have been detained because we have lost contact with them. We heard that when they were taken, they were not allowed to take their clothes with them. The weather in Mong Pauk is cold.'
He said of the conscripted students: ' "We want them to be released as soon as possible. Our Baptist members are all praying for them.'
The Wa forces shut down at least 10 churches early in September, including six belonging to the Kachin Baptist Convention, according to Morning Star News.
They issued a statement on September 13 saying all church buildings constructed after 1992 would be destroyed or closed, as they had been build without UWSA permission.
Myanmar's ethnic and religious make-up is complex, with Christians comprising around nine per cent of the population. Vicious repression of minorities by the Burmese army – accused of genocide against the Rohingyas – has driven some groups to armed resistence.