Church leaders in Myanmar are seeking the re-opening of churches and a Bible school that were forcibly closed by China-backed militia in the Wa region of Myanmar's northern Shan State in September. Reverend Lazarus
, general secretary of the Lahu Baptist Convention in the major town of Kyaing Tong, said he was hoping for an official announcement from the United Wa State Army (UWSA)
on reopening church institutions. "We haven't got any official notification from the Wa army yet," he said. Some 20 female Bible students continued to be detained by the UWSA, Rev. Lazarus told ucanews.com. A similar number of male Bible students managed to escape from the militiamen in October and November. They are now taking refuge at a Lahu Baptist church in Kyaing Tong. Lahu Baptist leaders and political parties – as well as cultural and women's associations – have previously sent letters to the UWSA demanding that the Lahu Baptist churches be re-opened. Lahu Baptist leaders say 52 churches have been shut down, three have been destroyed and 92 Lahu Baptist leaders detained. Local media Dec. 19 quoted Nyi Rang, spokesperson from the UWSA's liaison office in Lashio, northern Shan State, as saying that a meeting of UWSA senior officials has decided to allow reopening Lahu and Kachin Baptist churches in Wa region. Rev. Hkalam Samson, the president of the Kachin Baptist Convention (KBC), said he hasn't got any official letter from the UWSA yet. Kachin pastors who fled Wa region still remained in the Kachin State, Rev. Samson told ucanews.com. Father Mariano Soe Naing
, spokesperson of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Myanmar (CBCM), said he had also heard that UWSA senior officials held a meeting, but like others he had received no notification of a reprieve. In September and October, three Salesian priests, a diocesan priest, 11 nuns and nine lay teachers were expelled as part of a campaign by the UWSA against alleged foreign interference and spying. The Wa region is home to ethnic groups including the Wa, Kachin, Ta'ang, Lahu, Lisu, Kokang and Shan who observe Christianity, Buddhism, animism, spirit worship and Islam. Christians comprise around 30 percent of the estimated 450,000 Wa. The 30,000-strong UWSA, Myanmar's largest ethnic army, is alleged to be one of the largest drug-trafficking outfits in Southeast Asia.