A second pastor in Myanmar’s Rakhine state has been abducted by suspected Buddhist insurgents after another was killed less than two months ago.
Pastor U Thar Tun was abducted from his home in Buthidaung township on Feb. 13, according to the U.S.-based watchdog group International Christian Concern.
Tun is the 50-year-old pastor of Mara Evangelical Church who is active in community development and received a theological education from Mizoram State. The father of five has served as the pastor of his church even though the congregation could not support him financially.
The pastor’s abduction was also confirmed by contacts of the England-based Christian aid agency Barnabas Fund, who say that he was abducted by militants of the Arakan Army. The Arakan Army is the armed wing of the United League of Arakan and is active in both Rakhine and Kachin states.
Barnabas Fund believes Tun may have been a target because of his work helping refugees in his hometown of Buthidaung.
Violence between the AA and the Myanmar military rekindled in December when fighting again broke out in Rakhine state, which has led to thousands being displaced. AA forces have attacked police posts in the Buthidaung Township.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, displaced people have sought shelter inside monasteries and other communal spaces in Kyauktaw, Ponnagyun, Rathedaung and Buthidaung townships, where they have been aided by authorities and relief agencies.
“He is innocent and actively involved in social and ethnic Myo [a minority ethnic group] people activities. He acts with truth and love for the oppressed people and he also protects them,” one of Tun’s colleague told ICC. “Even though there is only [a] slim chance, I would like to request his immediate release from the people who had taken him. He is a valued member of our community.”
The pastor’s wife, Daw Hla Sein, told ICC that the insurgent group initially came to their home to demand that her husband talk with them outside. But when Tun stepped outside, the rebels reportedly tied Tun up and dragged him away.
Local authorities are investigating the abduction.
“While a lot of attention has been paid to the Rohingya crisis in Rakhine State, it is alarming to see Christian persecution on the rise in the area,” ICC Regional Manager Gina Goh said in a statement. “We urge the Burmese government to negotiate the release of Pastor U Thar Tun, given that his life is at risk in the hands of the Arakan Army. This evil act cannot be tolerated or ignored.”
Last month, it was reported that Pastor Tun Nu, a Gospel for Asia missionary field partner in Rakhine state, was killed after he was abducted by suspected AA forces at gunpoint from his home on Jan. 19.
The 41-year-old pastor shepherded a congregation of about 50 people in the Sittwe District in southwestern Rakhine. He was believed to pastor 12 different discipleship groups in the area.
According to GFA, Pastor Nu’s death and kidnapping are the first incidents of its kind to happen to a GFA-supported ministry in Myanmar.
Myanmar ranks as the 18th worst country in the world when it comes to Christian persecution, according to Open Doors USA’s 2019 World Watch List.
While much has been reported internationally about the genocide of the Rohingya community in northern Rakhine at the hands of the Myanmar military, the Christian community in Kachin state has faced its share of persecution at the hands of the Myanmar military.
Gum San Nsang, president of the United States-based international advocacy group Kachin Alliance, told The Christian Post in December that Kachin Christians are facing an "existential threat" and "will not be able to continue" in the next one or two generations if the ongoing civil war between Kachin rebels and the Myanmar military keeps up.
He warned that over 130,000 Christians have been forced to flee from their homes. In July 2018, it was reported that the military bombed 60 churches in an 18-month span.