A Baptist group in western Myanmar’s Chin state has condemned the killing of a local pastor by government troops during a clash between Myanmar’s military and local defense forces over the weekend in a conflict that has seen thousands driven from their homes.
Pastor Cung Biak Hum, 31, was shot and killed when he and several others ran to put out fires set by government soldiers during an attack on their position in Chin state’s Thantlang town, the scene of recent fighting with civilian militias that oppose the February military takeover of the country, a local witness told RFA.
“The pastor and four or five young people came to the scene on their motorbikes to help, and when the soldiers fired on them, he was shot and died on the spot,” RFA’s source said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
“Because of the constant gunfire and shelling by artillery, no one could retrieve his body, but when volunteers later cleaned his body at his mother’s home it was found that his ring finger had been cut off and his wedding ring stolen,” he said.
Pastor of the Thantlan Century Baptist Church, Cung Biak Hum is survived by two sons and his pregnant wife, sources said.
Speaking to RFA, Lod Harlinrel—secretary of the Chin Baptist Convention—called the actions of Myanmar troops fighting local defense forces in Chin state barbaric and unacceptable and likely to produce a wider conflict.
“When firing their guns, the military should carefully distinguish between their enemies and civilians. They should not just randomly fire their weapons,” he said. “Besides that, the military’s reckless and barbaric actions we have seen in the towns and urban areas should all have been avoided.”
“If they continue this way, this fighting could grow into a larger ethno-religious conflict. That’s why we condemn these actions strongly,” he said.
Hkalam Samson, president of the Kachin Baptist Convention in northern Myanmar’s Kachin state, said his group supported the statement issued on Sunday by the Baptist Convention in Chin, which condemned the killing of the pastor, the stationing of Myanmar troops in Christian churches, the destruction of Bibles and other religious texts, and the firing of artillery at church buildings.
“As the servants of God, we have to stand with the people. This could lead to opposition to our rulers, but we will stand with justice, no matter what,” Hkalam Samson said.
Pastor Cung Biak Hum’s killing should not lead to religious conflict in Myanmar, as the country’s military does not discriminate between Christians and Buddhists, said Ashin Magawa, a Buddhist monk living in Chin state’s Mindat township.
“They would destroy both Christian churches and Buddhist monasteries as they see fit, if they see them as their enemies,” he said. “I want our Christian brothers to understand this, and I urge us all not to see each other as enemies divided by race or religion.”
“This was a very bad action by the [junta] army,” he said.
Army retaliates against civilians
Combined forces of the Chin National Front (CNF) and Chin Defense Force (CDF) launched an assault on Myanmar troop positions in Thantlang town on Sept. 18, but withdrew when government troops lashed out with heavy artillery in retaliation against local civilians, a CNF spokesperson said.
At least 18 houses and a hotel were burned down in the barrage, said Salai Htet Ni, an information officer for the Chin National Front, a nationalist political organization that advocates for Myanmar’s Chin ethnic minority.
“We heard they lost 15 soldiers, but we retreated because they were harming civilian lives and property,” Salai Htet Ni said.
Fighting alongside the CNF, the Chin Defense Force (CDF) was formed by citizens who took up arms following the Feb. 1 military coup that ousted the democratically elected government of Myanmar’s national leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy.
Only around a thousand people still live in Thantlan town, as most of the town’s more than 10,000 former residents have fled their homes for shelter in Mizoram in India, or in Chin state’s capital Hakha, sources said.
Between the Feb. 1 coup that overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi and early July, troops loyal to the junta killed 81 ethnic Chins, including two infants and a 15-year-old rape victim, the Institute of Chin Affairs said in a survey at the time.
Requests for comment from Major General Zaw Min Htun, spokesperson for Myanmar’s ruling Military Council, received no reply.
In the seven months since the Feb. 1 coup, security forces have killed 1,114 civilians and arrested at least 6,637 according to the Bangkok-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)—many during crackdowns on anti-junta protests.
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