This today from the BBC:
Burma ‘used chemicals on rebels’
An international human rights group has accused the Burmese army of using chemical weapons in an attack on rebel groups in the country.
The incident is alleged to have taken place near Burma’s north-western border with Thailand in February.
The attack left Karen fighters vomiting blood and unable to walk, Christian Solidarity Worldwide says.
The group says it has evidence which suggests that chemical weapons were responsible for the men’s injuries.
According to accounts from Karen fighters, who have been engaged in a long-running war with Burma’s military government, the attack took place just inside the Burmese border, around 16km (10 miles) from the Thai town of Mae Hong Son.
They claim that clouds of yellow vapour began pouring from shells fired at their positions and soon after this many of them felt sick, vomited blood and were unable to walk.
Some later suffered from blisters and acute diarrhoea.
The president of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Australian physician Dr Martin Panter, has since flown to the area and examined five of the men.
He concluded that their symptoms are synonymous with exposure to some form of chemical attack.
The UK Foreign Office says that it is very concerned about the allegations and will be examining any evidence.
The Burmese Embassy in London has so far declined to comment.
You may be wondering why Christian Solidarity Worldwide is involved in this story. Read on. Let me tell you.
The tribe mentioned in this news article, the Karen, is no ordinary tribe. They are no ordinary people. They are courageous, steadfast, and, miraculously, in the midst of a heavily Buddhist Burma, a Christian tribe.
Last summer, I went on a missions trip to Thailand. Our group had an opportunity to send some people up to the border with Burma to visit the refugee camp where hundreds of thousands of Karen live in limbo, but still faithful, still joyful in the Lord. They can and do venture into Burma for food, but they risk rape, torture, death. They can’t live free in Thailand because of longstanding, complicated agreements between the governments of Thailand and Burma. Right now, they live in this muddy camp in the middle of the jungle. It’s called a refugee camp, but it’s no guaranteed safe haven. They’ve been attacked in the past by the Burmese army and, because of that, in the middle of the camp, hangs a large gong that is sounded whenever they are under threat. Unless things change for them, many, many will spend the remainder of their days there. One might imagine that constant fear and disabling depression would dominate these people, but they know a freedom that is not physical; they know profoundly, in ways we Westerners don’t, a true freedom in the Lord.
Allow me to share a bit more about the plight of these stalwart tribal Christians. This, from a letter I sent out before the trip last summer:
The mountains of northern Thailand and Burma are populated by diverse ethnic peoples who have lived in the region for hundreds, and in some cases, thousands of years. The tribes consider themselves non-Burman, since they come from regions as various as China, Mongolia, Cambodia, and India. They do not acknowledge the name “Myanmar,” seeing it as a form of ethnic cleansing. One tribe, known as the Karen (“ker-in”) has lived in these jungles for about 2,500 years. They are known as the “Christian tribe” because upwards of 40% are, indeed, Christians. It’s an astonishing number when you consider that over 85% of the Burmese population is Buddhist.
There’s a fascinating story I read recently about how the Karen people came to be so (comparatively) heavily evangelized. It seems that for generations before they were ever evangelized, the Karen passed poems amongst themselves that told of one creator God named “Y’wa” who made man and woman. The stories told of a man and a woman who lived in a garden and of a snake who gave the woman some forbidden fruit. The Karen also believe they once possessed a “Book” that told the truth about life. That book was lost, they say, but they believed that one day, a young man from across the seas would come and return it. So when Bible-bearing missionaries arrived in Burma in the 19th century, they were warmly welcomed and the message of Christ was embraced. Compellingly, I’ve also learned that there are those searching for the Jewish descendants of the Assyrian captivity who believe the Karen to be a remnant of the lost tribes of Israel. Just how did they know this story otherwise?
But now, the Karen are among the 4 million Christians in Burma who are part of the persecuted church worldwide. Persecution is both religious and political, extending to the Karen and other non-Burman peoples who’ve struggled for decades for autonomy from the Burmese “government” — really nothing more than a military junta known as the “State Peace and Development Council.” The SPDC sees the expression of even the most basic freedoms as a threat to “national unity”; therefore, any and all attempts at religious and political freedom are violently put down.
What’s happening in Burma does not receive much news coverage, a shameful omission since the current situation is one of the most brutal in the world. But I believe we need to be aware of what’s happening to our brothers and sisters in the Lord scattered across the globe. To that end, I will share with you.
(Be forewarned. Some of what follows will be graphic.)
Under present circumstances, the Burmese army routinely extorts tribal villages for food and money, two things they simply don’t have. Villagers are forced to become human minesweepers; men are sent into forced labor; villages, including churches, are systematically burned down; children are forced to become soldiers. Currently, there are approximately 70,000 children in the Burmese army against their will.
Villagers must take care not to be seen running through the jungle or they will be shot on sight. Once the men are removed from the villages as forced laborers, women and children — some as young as 5 — are raped, and frequently, gang raped. Many rape victims are then killed. Christian children are regularly taken from their villages and put into Buddhist monasteries to become monks. They never see their families again.
Additionally, the Burmese army has a terror squad known as the Sa Sa Sa which specializes in beheading villagers and mounting their heads on poles as a warning to others. Small babies have been taken and ground to death in rice pounders.
Even in the midst of these atrocities, the Karen and other tribal Christians remain faithful and courageous. They watch as their villages and churches are destroyed. They move and rebuild, move and rebuild, all with the knowledge that any new village, any new church, will likely be destroyed also. The Karen tribe has a tiny, ragtag, guerrilla force known as the Karen National Liberation Army that continues to do what it can to stave off the Burmese army — and there are small victories.
Just recently, in August 2003, a skirmish broke out between some Karen and Burmese soldiers. The Karen lost about 15 men, but the Burma Army’s losses were much greater, about 300 men. Later, the Karen soldiers said that the Burmese hadn’t even tried to dodge the barrage of gunfire coming their way. After the confrontation, the Karen went through the soldiers’ bags and found the reason why. The bags were full of amphetamines. The Burmese soldiers had been high. Astounding. (God’s ways are truly not our ways …)
A final story of the character and graciousness of the tribal Christians:
Several years ago, a group of missionaries traveled to visit some believers among the Shan (shawn) tribe. Two years after this first visit, they returned to the village, were welcomed like old, dear friends, and told how the villagers had longed for their return. They fellowshiped together, and as the missionaries were leaving, each received a small envelope from the villagers. As they opened them later, the missionaries discovered they had each been given 1000 Kyat (local currency) from these destitute believers. The villagers had nearly nothing but thought nothing of giving all they did have. They begged the missionaries to please return.
Here is a beautiful meditation composed by a Karen pastor:
They call us a displaced people,
But praise God; we are not misplaced.
They say they see no hope for our future,
But praise God; our future is as bright as the promises of God.
They say they see the life of our people as a misery,
But praise God; our life is a mystery.
For what they say is what they see,
And what they see is temporal.
But ours is the eternal.
All because we put ourselves
In the hands of the God we trust.
Will you please pray for these brothers and sisters?