05/05/2011, 00.00
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Kachin Christians against Burmese junta, crosses to stay (for now)

The authorities put off removing religious symbols that have stood for a hundred years on a site slated to give way to the Irrawaddy dam. Two crosses were erected by Catholic and Baptist worshippers. Some Christian leaders are criticised for caring more for the government’s interests than those of their community.
Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Kachin Christians won the first round in a fight with the Myanmar government. The authorities have temporarily stopped putting pressures on Christian churches to remove crosses on the site of the future Irrawaddy dam. Local Catholics and Protestants can thus celebrate despite grumbling by some local Christian leaders who are more interested in promoting the government’s agenda than protecting the rights of the faithful.

On 21 December 2009, Myanmar’s military regime announced a plan to build a huge dam on the Irrawaddy River, in Kachin state, in the northern part of the country.

In May of last year, the authorities began expropriating land, forcibly removing the inhabitants of 47 villages. Local sources said that 15,000 people lost their homes in the process.

Two crosses perched on top of a mountain are also slated for removal. They were erected more than a century ago by two Kachin churches in Tang Hpre, a village near the confluence of the Irrawaddy River. Over time, they have become a symbol for Catholics and Protestants in Kachin, a mostly Christian state located on the border with China.

Myanmar Ministry of Electric Power and the Asia World Company of Burma as well as China’s state-owned Power Investment Corporation (CPI) have been involved in the project since its inception in December 2009.

The Kachin Baptist Church in Tang Hpre sent an open letter to the government office of Myitkyina District on 6 April, demanding the authorities stop the relocation of the century-old Christian symbols (pictured). It was signed by 85 elders from the Baptist and Catholic churches of the village, the Kachin News Group (KNG) reported.

For now, Christians can claim victory in the first round against the government; however, some local Christian leaders have also been criticised for supporting the government rather than Catholics and Baptists fighting for religious freedom.

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