Two Kachin pastors who went missing last month and were feared dead are alive and in Burmese Army custody, according to the Office of the Defence Services’ Commander-in-Chief.
A statement put out by the office on Thursday alleged that the two men, Nawng Latt and Lanjaw Gam Seng, were “recruiters, informers and rumour-mongers” for the Northern Alliance, a grouping of ethnic armed groups comprised of the Kachin Independence Army, Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army, Ta’ang National Liberation Army and Arakan Army. The statement said the pair had assisted the alliance as it fought with government troops in late November and early December in Shan State’s Muse district.
The military claimed the two fled across the border to “the other country,” presumably China, after Tatmadaw forces regained control of the town of Mongko from the alliance on 4 December, but the pastors later returned to Burma. They will be transferred to police custody following military interrogation, said the statement.
It cited section 376 of the Constitution in justifying the pastors’ prolonged — and secret — detention without a formal arraignment. That charter provision states, “No person shall, except matters on precautionary measures taken for the security of the Union or prevalence of law and order, peace and tranquillity in accord with the law in the interest of the public, or the matters permitted according to an existing law, be held in custody for more than 24 hours without the remand of a competent magistrate.”
Zaw Min, director of the Muse district government administration, said local authorities were unaware of the two’s detention.
“We don’t get to know that as they were probably detained as part of a military operation clearing out the rebels in the area and the [military] usually keeps these activities secret,” said Zaw Min.
Speaking to DVB by phone on Friday, the daughter of Nawng Latt denied the allegations levelled against her father by the Burmese military.
“I am positive my father has nothing to do with the [alliance’s attacks] but I don’t know why the army made such accusations against him,” she said.
“I just want my father to come home safely.”
Local pastor Zau Ra said the church is looking into the case to provide assistance to the detained clergymen.
“We have to investigate the situation, to find out what happened, when the military transfers custody to police, and find out where they are detained,” said Zau Ra.
Prior to their disappearance, the two had assisted reporters from multiple news organisations, including DVB, with coverage of the hostilities between the Burmese Army and the Northern Alliance late last year.
Fighting between the two sides first flared on 20 November, when the Northern Alliance staged a coordinate assault on police and military installations in Muse and Kutkai townships.