Over 20,000 Christians Join Prayer Campaign for Myanmar

A prayer campaign for freedom and democracy in Myanmar was launched this week by over 100 churches in India that together comprise more than 20 thousand Christians.

The effort in Churachandpur, the largest district of Manipur, and throughout the Indian state was organized by the Myanmar Christians Fellowships (MCF) to express solidarity with Myanmar's political prisoners and detained democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Also joining the campaign are exiled Burmese Christians who have offered mass prayers for Burma.

"The aim of this campaign is to pray for peace, restoration of democracy and for the release of all political prisoners in Burma," MCF General Secretary Ko Lay said, referring to Myanmar by its former name. He said the campaign also prayed for "the Burmese military generals so that they change their mind and abandon their evil ways."

Late last month, the ruling junta of Myanmar drew worldwide criticism and media attention when it began a major crackdown on Buddhist monks and the tens of thousands of protestors that they led in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations.

Military troops used bullets, tear gas, and clubs to break up the street protests. The government also launched an intimidation campaign that included late-night arrests of citizens.

The Light of Myanmar, a mouthpiece of Myanmar's ruling junta, reported that as few as 10 people were killed in the junta's Sept. 26-27 crackdown and that only some 1,000 remain in detention centers. Dissident groups, however, said more than 200 had been killed and nearly 6,000 arrested in the crackdown against demonstrations spearheaded by Buddhist monks.

In Imphal, Manipur, Babloo Loitongban, director of Human Rights Alert, reported that three Burmese nationals from the Western side of Myanmar have been detained by the Indian authorities after the recent crisis in Myanmar.

"We are trying to also give some legal aid to them," he told AsiaNews. "We are also moving court to have them treated as refugees, as we are doing with other Burmese mainly students. Many union leaders from Myanmar have taken refuge in Imphal and we are also helping them."

According to Loitongban, there were some attempts to protest against the military junta in western Myanmar, which borders Manipur.

"[B]ut we were informed the number of protestors were rather few. This is largely due to the fact that in the border areas like the 'Tamu town,' which is predominantly a 'Traders town,' … the people there earn a livelihood by trading with Manipur and the rest of India; so the protest was not very strong," he reported.

Meanwhile, the group that organized the protest expressed disappointment over the soft response of the Indian Government on the issue.

"International pressure is important but much more crucial is the response by the neighbors – big neighbors like India, China, and Thailand – [which] is what is going to make a major difference in how Burmese military responds," AsiaNews reported the group as saying.

Rights groups claim that hundreds of Burmese tribal people have fled to India, saying they face huge fines if they fail to join pro-junta rallies stage-managed by the government.

Members of the largely Christian Chin group are entering the border state of Mizoram to escape the military regime.

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