By Peter Pattisson in Kayin State, southern Burma
12:01AM GMT 21 Jan 2007
The military regime in Burma is intent on wiping out Christianity in the country, according to claims in a secret document believed to have been leaked from a government ministry. Entitled "Programme to destroy the Christian religion in Burma", the incendiary memo contains point by point instructions on how to drive Christians out of the state.
The text, which opens with the line "There shall be no home where the Christian religion is practised", calls for anyone caught evangelising to be imprisoned. It advises: "The Christian religion is very gentle – identify and utilise its weakness."
Its discovery follows widespread reports of religious persecution, with churches burnt to the ground, Christians forced to convert to the state religion, Buddhism, and their children barred from school.
Human rights groups claim that the treatment meted out to Christians, who make up six per cent of the population, is part of a wider campaign by the regime, also targeted at ethnic minority tribes, to create a uniform society in which the race and language is Burmese and the only accepted religion is Buddhism.
In the past year, an estimated 27,000 members of the predominantly Christian Karen tribe were driven from their homes in eastern Burma.
In Koh Kyi village, in Arakan State, a monk backed by the military burnt down the local church. In another state, 300 monks were allegedly sent by the regime to forcibly convert the populace, all of whom belonged to the Chin ethnic group, which is mostly Christian.
The document, shown to The Sunday Telegraph by human rights groups, may have been produced by a state-sponsored Buddhist group, but with the tacit approval of the military junta. The regime has denied authorship of the document – which also calls for teenagers to be prevented from wearing Western clothes – but has made no public attempt to refute or repudiate its contents.
The dictatorship has long been accused of large-scale human rights abuses. In power since 1988, the generals annulled the National League for Democracy's sweeping 1990 election victory and jailed its leader, the Nobel peace prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi. She remains under house arrest. Last week she was accused of tax evasion for failing to hand over any of her Nobel prize winnings to the authorities.
Eha Hsar Paw, a Karen Christian, who fled her village while heavily pregnant to a refugee camp near the border with Thailand, said: "The journey here was very difficult. It was hard to leave our village, but if we had stayed there we would all be dead."