04/08/2023, 17.14
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In a wounded Myanmar, Christian communities experience (re)birth at Easter

by Alessandra De Poli

Violence has intensified in the Southeast Asian country. Permanently displaced people have lost everything – jobs, material goods, friends – but it is amid the ruins and the despair that small Christian groups have been reborn.

Loikaw (AsiaNews) – The displaced people of Myanmar will celebrate Easter amid the ruins of civil war, far from home, in many cases without family and friends, and often with little or no food and medicines.

Last night, the Southeast Asian country was one of the places in the world mentioned in the Way of the Cross at the Colosseum, disfigured by the "piecemeal world war" that is raging in today's world.

Yet it is precisely in the desperation of having lost everything – not only in material terms, but also one's origins and history – that one can see the seeds of life reborn.

In Taunggyi, capital of the eastern state of Shan, Christian refugees have set up new communities. While chaos and violence rage elsewhere, they will celebrate Easter for the first time since the military ousted the government of Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), two years ago.

The military junta has pursued a relentless bombing campaign against people who fled into forests in order to flush them out and force them to move to the cities where it is easier for regular troops to respond to guerrilla activity. For the same reason, the military is closing refugee camps in various parts of the country.

According to the latest UN report on Myanmar’s humanitarian situation, more than 1.8 million people had been displaced by late March, mainly in the north-west of the country where fighting has intensified in recent months.

The city of Thantlang, Chin State, on the border with India, has been razed to the ground and turned into a ghost town. The Chin National Front, one of the ethnic armies fighting against the military, claims that since the coup, planes struck the city and surrounding villages 140 times.

Things are no better on the opposite end of the country, on the border with Thailand. Yesterday alone, more than a thousand people crossed the border to flee fighting between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army, another ethnic force.

In the Thai district of Mae Sot, the number of refugees (mainly women, children, and the elderly) rose to 8,000 in one day.

Not only are there multiple fronts across Myanmar, but sources told AsiaNews that divisions are emerging among the warring factions, leading to an unprecedented level of violence.

In mid-March, civilians and Buddhist monks were reportedly massacred inside a monastery in the village of Nan Naint by the Pa-O National Army, a pro-regime ethnic militia, dubbed in the “dogs of Min Aung Hlaing”, after Myanmar’s current military strongman who heads the State Administration Council, the ruling military junta.

“It was a shocking event because for the first time fighters killed civilians from their own ethnic group," our sources stressed. “And the bloodbath happened the night before an important local ceremony in which children dress like little monks.”

The carnage is also  symptomatic of the fragmentation within the ranks of the military. In some places, there is total anarchy.

The notorious “Ogre Column”, for example, which includes infantry battalions, has independently raided resistance strongholds in the central region of Sagaing since late February, slaughtering civilians and raping women before killing them.

The People's Defence Forces (PDF), the military force set up after the coup by majority ethnic Bamar fighters, is also falling apart, because of disillusionment and anger towards the exiled National Unity Government (NUG), established by former NLD lawmakers.

Many people who joined the civil disobedience movement that protested peacefully right after the coup also wonder why they left everything behind – home, work, loved ones –  joining demonstrations that put themselves and their loved ones in harm’s way. Now they are wanted by the authorities, and cannot work or send their children to school.

Many minors have also become child soldiers. Picked up in the streets by militias or forced by the military, they find themselves fighting or among the displaced.

"People have been uprooted,” sources told AsiaNews. “Urgent material needs can be easily solved by bringing medicine and food,” but “Rebuilding the social fabric will be difficult because it takes more time.”

“Everyone has lost friends and relations and mistrust prevails because of the possible presence of informants.”

For young people, starting over is complicated but the same is true for people in their 40s and 50s. "In fact, it may be more difficult for them, because they have to rebuild everything after living half of their lives."

Still, however uprooted and traumatised displaced people are, they can celebrate Easter after coming together. “Nothing special has been prepared. Closeness among Christians is enough to see human relationships flourish again.”

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