Ethnic Wa rebels shut down churches, destroyed buildings, and temporarily detained several pastor in eastern Burma (Myanmar), shaving their heads before releasing them.
Persecution watchdog Morning Star News reports that earlier this month, soldiers of Myanmar's largest ethnic rebel group, the United Wa State Army (UWSA), attacked the churches in the rebel's autonomous region in Shan state.
"We confirmed that at least 12 churches have been destroyed or closed as of Sept. 20," a Christian leader who has lived in the Wa region for several decades told the outlet.
Most of the targets were Baptist churches in Panghsang, where Wa soldiers destroyed crosses, the source said. Video footage also showed UWSA soldiers damaging a church building in Mong Maw town, and local sources said schools built by Christian organizations in Panghsand town also have been shut down.
"Not only churches in Panghsang city were shut down, but churches in Mong Maw town were also destroyed," said Ah Kar, a local resident in Mong Maw town. "Some religious leaders were arrested, and some people who worship were briefly arrested, and they were head-shaved before release. Some of those who were head-shaved were women."
Local media reported that the UWSA rebels attacked because the church buildings were built without UWSA permission.
"I heard that some churches were demolished that had been built without the permission of the UWSA central committee," U Nyi Rang told the Myanmar Times. "We are trying to control the instability in the region caused by extremist, unregistered religious leaders from outside."
Although most of the population in Wa territory worships ancestral spirits, there are also Buddhists as well as Christian communities in region. While missionary activity among the Wa has long been carried out, attacks have been growing steadily worse.
"We live in hills and were isolated," said Tat Nyi Nat, a Christian who lives in Nang Pang in the Wa region. "But we got a chance to study and became educated persons because of the Christian missionaries. We were happy. But we are not happy for the future of our children."
One local Christian leader who is a long-time resident in the Wa region said he believes Chinese authorities are behind the uptick in persecution.
"There have been more restrictions on Christian religious organizations for three years," he said on condition of anonymity. "It has become worse. We don't criticize other religions and don't force non-Christians to convert into Christian."
Last week, a Catholic priest told ucanews.com that a Salesian priest, five nuns from the Missionary Society of St. Paul and six lay teachers were ordered by the UWSA to leave the region.
"Local children and people are very disappointed by the expulsions of the priest, nuns and teachers," said the priest who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The priest said the clampdown in Mong Mao, Wa's second largest town, is only going to worsen, as the UWSA militia in the process of inspecting all churches, schools and convents.
The country is ranked 24th on Christian support organization Open Doors' 2018 World Watch List of the countries where it is most difficult to be a Christian.