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Myanmar’s military junta intensifies persecution

Villagers see devastation—and hope—two years after the coup

Karenni National Defense Force soldiers in July, 2022 Getty Images/Photo by Kaung Zaw Hein/SOPA Images/LightRocket

Myanmar’s military junta intensifies persecution

Attached to a rope, Dave Eubank rappelled about 40 feet down a well in Karenni State, Myanmar, where he found two skulls—the remains of two brothers. In January 2022, they returned to their deserted village for their belongings, but were killed by the military junta. Wanting to give her brothers a proper burial, their sister, Suliana, asked Free Burma Rangers, the Christian aid organization Eubank leads, to help her retrieve the bodies the troops had tossed.

Members of the Karenni National Defense Force, a resistance group, helped Eubank and his team find a way to the well in the occupied Six-Mile Village without attracting the junta’s attention. By the time Eubank carried the skulls back up in the rice sack attached to his belt, it was already July.

Eubank met Suliana at a camp for internally displaced people. In the country also known as Burma, about 1.2 million people are displaced due to clashes and insecurity. Since the military coup two years ago, more than 2,900 people have been killed in the junta’s crackdown on dissent. Nearly 18,000 have been arrested, including Myanmar’s former leader Aung San Suu Kyi, now serving a 33-year sentence.

On Wednesday’s anniversary of the coup, citizens closed businesses and stayed indoors to protest against the military, leaving streets largely empty. Activists in countries including Thailand, Japan, and the Philippines rallied in solidarity outside Myanmar’s embassies.

To deprive the regime of the means to perpetuate its violence, the United States sanctioned six additional individuals and three entities on Tuesday. They include Myanmar’s election commission, two military-linked mining enterprises and their executives, and current and former junta officials. Canada, the United Kingdom, and Australia also sanctioned junta-affiliated individuals and entities.

A woman standing in a crater from a bomb that destroyed a church and school in Karen state

A woman standing in a crater from a bomb that destroyed a church and school in Karen state Courtesy of Dave Eubank

Since the military takeover, the persecution of Christians has “grown exponentially,” said Eubank, referring to the military attacking churches and killing and arresting pastors. On Jan. 12, Eubank’s team arrived at the village of Lay Wah in Karen State, hours after a military jet dropped two bombs. The airstrikes killed a toddler, her mother, a Baptist pastor, a Catholic deacon, and a villager, and destroyed two churches and a school. The death toll would have been higher, Eubank said, if the villagers hadn’t already been hiding in the jungle.

On Jan. 15, in the predominantly Christian village of Chan Thar, the junta burned down Assumption Church, a 129-year-old Catholic church. Over the last few months, the military has destroyed hundreds of homes during multiple raids on the village.

The regime’s detention of Pastor Hkalam Samson, former president of the Kachin Baptist Convention, has drawn international outcry. Arrested in early December, Samson was illegally detained as he faces charges of unlawful association, harm against officials by circulating a statement, and terrorism, said Elijah Brown, general secretary of the Baptist World Alliance. Ahead of Samson’s next court session on Feb. 14, Brown says the pastor’s family asks the international community to pray for Samson’s health and release from prison.

Members of Eubank’s Free Burma Rangers have also been killed in army attacks. The group has already lost four people this year, Eubank told me on Tuesday. Approximately 18 from his team have been killed since the coup.

Still, Eubank sees hope. People of different socio-economic statuses, ethnicities, and religions are uniting in an unprecedented way, Eubank noted, giving the example of Burmese professionals who have left cities to help ethnic minorities. He also recalls a team member being shot next to him, who might not have survived if a Burmese surgeon was not nearby to help.

From right: Suliana, Dave Eubank, the two widows, Karen Eubank, and a Free Burma Rangers volunteer

From right: Suliana, Dave Eubank, the two widows, Karen Eubank, and a Free Burma Rangers volunteer Courtesy of Dave Eubank

On Monday, Eubank encountered Suliana again. It was the first time he saw her smile. He reconnected with two widows whose husbands were also killed by troops in January 2022, their bodies thrown in the village sewer. Despite the atrocities the three women have endured, Eubank said they pray for help to forgive the soldiers, and for the attackers to know the love of Christ.

These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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