Members of the predominantly Christian ethnic Chin group were among those killed in Burmese army airstrikes this month, prompting some church leaders to speculate the Christians were targeted because of their faith.
In Paletwa Township, Chin state, the Burmese army on March 14 struck Meiksa Wa village, killing 12 civilians, according to Morning Star News. Eight more died in attacks the next day on Wetma village, and one was killed in Pyaing Tain village. Among those killed was a 7-year-old child, locals said.
Another 28 civilians were wounded in the attacks, according to the outlet, and more than 1,500 villagers fled the areas as some of their houses were burned down.
“A jet fighter repeatedly flew over our village. The jet fighter unexpectedly attacked our village without any reason,” Meiksa Wa resident Lai Pa said, according to the Myanmar Peace Monitor.
The Burmese military’s Members of Parliament claimed the predominantly Christian villages were targeted because army personnel believed Arakan Army rebels from Rakhine state, on Chin state’s southern border, had taken cover in them.
However, according to residents of the community, there has been no movement of the Arakan Army around their village in recent days. Chin Christian leaders expressed the belief that, based on past persecution they have endured at the hands of the military, army personnel fired indiscriminately at the villages because the inhabitants were Christian.
According to International Christian Concern, the Burmese government has discriminated against minority groups for years. Many ethnic Chin retain their ancestral animist beliefs and practices, though today most are Christians.
Under the previous military regime, troops came to predominantly Christian villages and systematically persecuted believers, destroying churches in the process.
Now, Christians are attacked from both sides amid fighting in Chin state’s Paletwa area and in Rakhine state, facing persecution from the predominantly Buddhist Rakhine people and the military. Mai Thin Yu Mon of the Chin Human Rights Organization said AA soldiers often attack civilians when they suspect Burmese army soldiers have taken cover in their buildings.
“Sometimes, the AA’s soldiers said that they were informed that the government soldiers stay in the villages, so they opened fire into the villages,” he said. “So villagers got injured because of those indiscriminate attacks.”
In January and February 2019, one pastor and one church elder disappeared in Rakhine State, allegedly abducted and then killed by the AA. The elder’s body was found, but the whereabouts of the pastor remains unknown, according to persecution watchdog Open Doors USA.
Last year, Texas Pastor Bob Roberts told The Christian Post that the military had bombed as many as 60 churches in the previous 18 months in the majority-Christian Kachin province. He added that about 20 of them were converted into Buddhist pagodas.
"[To] be clear, most of it is about ethnic cleansing,” Roberts told CP at the time.
Open Doors ranks Myanmar 19th on its 2020 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian. The outlet notes that due to ongoing fighting, more than 100,000 Christians have been forced to flee their homes and are living in camps where they have been denied access to food and healthcare.
Additionally, there are more than 2,600 Chin villagers taking shelter in the Samee Internally Displaced Persons camp in Chin state, including 20 pregnant women. In total, an estimated 90 percent of the IDPs are Christians.
“IDPs in the Samee camp also urgently need food, clothes, blankets and medicines,” May Thin Yu Mon said. “We are collecting donations for them. Some individuals who are ethnic Chin singers also donated some money.”
The Rev. Dennis Ngun Thawng Mang of the Chin Baptist Convention said Christian leaders are working to assist persecuted ethnic Chin Christian communities amid ongoing persecution.
“We are preparing to provide some financial assistance,” he said. “We are also trying to meet Burmese army officials. We will ask them not to harm our Chin Christian communities. We will ask them to protect our Chin Christian communities.”