The China-backed United Wa State Army (UWSA) has destroyed unauthorized churches, detained pastors and closed religious schools in the area under its control in Myanmar’s Shan State near the Chinese border. Myanmar’s largest armed ethnic organization has clamped down on Christian churches since on September 13, according to church sources. A Catholic priest said the UWSA also checked Catholic Churches and schools and detained four teachers for questioning, but they were released two days later. “It appears that they are concerned about several churches [mostly Baptist] that had sprung up unofficially. They are also checking whether schools might try to persuade people to convert to Christianity,” the priest told ucanews.com.
“They know the Catholic Church’s activities as we never try to convert people to Christianity.” Undated videos appearing to show UWSA officers destroying crosses, demolishing a new church and sealing off a church went viral on Facebook and Twitter on Sept. 19.
The UWSA instructed all its military officers and administrators to find out what missionaries were doing and what were their intentions, according to an Asia Times report.
All churches built after 1992 would be destroyed as they had been built illegally. Only churches built between 1989 and 1992 are legal, the army said in a statement.
It pledged to punish any local administration cadres who support missionary activities, it banned the construction of new churches and requires that priests and workers in churches must be local, not foreign.
It also bans religious teaching in schools in the Wa Hills area, while UWSP functionaries are no longer allowed to be members of any religious organizations.
Nyi Ran, a UWSA communications official at the army’s office in Lashio, Shan State, told Radio Free Asia that Wa leaders believe there are religious extremists in Wa territory, including missionaries who have not obtained official permission and clergy members who are operating outside the law.