Catholic churches and schools remain closed in Myanmar’s northern Shan State despite an ethnic separatist army relaxing a crackdown imposed on Christian places of worship last year, according to church and local sources.
As many as 52 Baptist churches have now reopened while some Catholic buildings are being converted for other purposes, including a police station, they said.
Churches closed by the United Wa State Army (UWSA) in its Self-Administered Region began to reopen in September in several townships, including Mei Pauk, Pansang and Hotaung, one Baptist bishop said.
“All of our churches finally opened last week, and only a Bible study school remains closed in Hotaung,” Bishop. Lazarus, general secretary of the Lahu Baptist Christian League in Kyaing Tong said on Dec 17, RFA reported.
“We don’t know why they will not allow this one to reopen yet,” he added.
The 30,000-strong armed group’s crackdown on Christians in its self-declared Wa state began in September last year with the closure of churches and schools.
Clergy men and nuns were detained or grilled over whether they were proselytizing or doing development projects before many were expelled from the region.
The only religious leaders the UWSA allowed to remain had to be residents of the region, and could only go about their work if they sought permission from local officials.
The reason for the crackdown was to rid the region of religious fanatics, according to the UWSA.
However, the easing of the crackdown has not yet been extended to Catholic churches and institutions.
Catholic schools in several townships in the Wa region are still shuttered, said Bishop Philiip Lasap Za Hawng of Lashio Diocese.
These schools include ones in the towns of Panwaing, Maingmaw and Winkhaung, the prelate said.
“We haven’t been to these areas because the authorities haven’t invited us,” he said.
One building where priests and nuns used to live was being used by the Wa authorities for other purposes, he said.
Many other church buildings have been converted for other uses said Catholic priest, Father Soe Naing.
Information about them was sketchy but, “We heard the the school in Winkhaung was converted into a police station, and that the school in Maingmaw was demolished.”
As for churches, there are currently none operating in UWSA-controlled territories, Father Soe Naing said.