A pastor has revealed that 17 Bible students who escaped an ethnic minority army in Myanmar have not been fed for days and are suffering from severe health problems, both mental and physical.
A pastor identified as Rev. Lazarus, general secretary of the Lahu Baptist Convention in Kyaing Tong, told UCAnews.com that the 17 male students forcibly recruited by the United Wa State Army recently escaped in the Wa hills near Myanmar's border with China. The teens fled in groups of two or three, with the last arriving to safety on Monday.
"Some them did not have food for several days. Some are suffering health problems and some now have psychological problems," the pastor said.
"They can't go back to their homes in the Wa hills, so we are arranging them to continue attending Bible school elsewhere," he added.
However, twenty-four Christians also forcefully recruited by the army remain at the Wa headquarters, including 20 females.
The Bible students were taken earlier this year from Mong Pawk township, where 52 churches were shut down and over 90 Christian leaders were arrested. The UWSA has declared that only local churches built between 1989 and 1992 are legal, and has banned the teaching of religion in schools.
"We are concerned for the remaining students, especially the women, and we are continuing to call for their release through different channels," Rev. Lazarus said.
The outlet notes that China is likely pressuring the UWSA to conduct the campaign that has included the detaining of pastors and the closing down of churches.
Earlier this year, a Catholic priest revealed 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.