Pekhon: two Catholic priests arrested by the military coup leaders
The priests were on their way to bring aid to internally displaced people in Shan State. Local sources report images linked to the anti-coup resistance were found on their phones. However, spot checks take place at all hours of the day and night and any act is punishable by imprisonment.
Yangon (AsiaNews) - Two Catholic priests from Taunggyi have been arrested by soldiers of the Burmese military junta near the diocese of Pekhon. On February 21 Fr John Paul Lwel and Fr John Bosco of the St. Therese Little Way Missionary Institute, were on their way to help a group of displaced people in Shan State when they were stopped at a checkpoint. In addition to the two priests, the driver and another young man in the car with them were also taken.
AsiaNews sources report all the travellers had their phones checked, a practice that has become routine. The arrest was prompted by the discovery of pictures with the logo of the Government of National Unity in Exile (formed by former members of parliament, mostly belonging to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party) and other photos of people linked to the Resistance Army.
The fact that the car was intended to bring aid to internal refugees made the situation worse: the generals, suspicious of religious people, claim that the Church protects the anti-coup militias. In the past year, junta forces have repeatedly made arbitrary arrests of nuns and priests in Kayah, Shan and Chin States where the Christian population is concentrated.
However, "if the army wants to make a certain number of arrests on a certain day and in a certain place, it does so, because the acts punishable by imprisonment are now so many that it is impossible not to have made at least one," continues our source. "Even staying at home is no longer safe because spit checks take place any time of day or night."
The arrest of the two priests coincided with the intensification of clashes in the diocese of Pekhon, in the southern part of Shan State, where the junta's forces conducted air strikes and generated yet another exodus of displaced people.
After the coup d'état by the Tatmadaw (the Burmese army) on 1 February 2021, civil conflict broke out in the country. The military controlled the central region, while ethnic anti-coup militias concentrated on the borders, encircling the military forces.
In December, the diocese of Loikaw, capital of Kayah State, was bombed. Of its nearly 70,000 inhabitants, at least 60,000 have now moved to the nearby cities of Taungoo and Taunggyi, or have crossed the border into Thailand. According to UNHCR figures, there are now over 400,000 internal refugees.
Faced with this situation, the PIME Foundation has set up the S145 Emergenza Myanmar Fund (in Italian) to help initiatives by local churches, many founded by PIME missionaries before the expulsion of foreign missionaries in 1966. The goal of the campaign is to provide immediate help to thousands of people through the relief network the dioceses of Taungoo and Taunggyi are putting in place.
Many local religious groups have responded to the emergency and in doing so are showing the most beautiful face of Myanmar, that of a people who, despite the suffering that has marked its history, choose the path of solidarity. Aid will be sent to them, starting with basic needs: shelter, food, and a school for children deprived of an education for the past two years because of the pandemic and the war.
Donations can be made out to S145–Emergenza Myanmar:
- directly online at this link (in Italian) choosing S145–Emergenza Myanmar among the projects (progetti);
- by bank transfer payable to Fondazione Pime Onlus IBAN: IT 11 W 05216 01630 000000005733 (it is recommended that a copy of the transfer be sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org indicating name, address, place and date of birth, plus fiscal code if in Italy or equivalent social insurance number in other countries)
- to the postal current account n. 39208202 made out to Fondazione Pime Onlus via Monte Rosa, 81 20149 Milan
- in cash or check by going in person to the Centro PIME in Milan, via Monte Rosa 81 – business hours Monday to Friday: from 9 am to 12.30 pm and 1.30 pm to 5.30 pm).