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Jan 17, 8:23 AM EST

Rights groups concerned by disappearances of Myanmar pastors



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Rights groups concerned by disappearances of Myanmar pastors

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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) -- Human rights organizations expressed alarm Tuesday over the disappearances of two Baptist pastors who had shown journalists a Catholic church allegedly damaged by airstrikes by Myanmar government forces who are fighting ethnic Kachin rebels.

Langjaw Gam Seng, 35, and Dumdaw Nawng Lat, 65, were summoned to an army base in northern Shan state in northeastern Myanmar on Dec. 24. Heavy fighting has been occurring in the area between the government and a coalition of Kachin and three other ethnic guerrilla groups. Myanmar's army has often been accused of human rights abuses in its decades-long battles with ethnic rebels seeking greater autonomy.

Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights said the two men appeared to have been forcibly disappeared and that Myanmar authorities "should urgently provide information on (their) whereabouts and well-being.

"The disappearances raise grave concerns for the safety of the two men and witnesses to the incident," the joint statement said.

Zaw Htay, a spokesman for the Myanmar president's office, said the military denied detaining the two men and he suggested they might be in Kachin state.

Amnesty International issued a separate statement saying people in the area where the pastors disappeared believed the men "may have been detained by Myanmar authorities for their role in organizing a visit by journalists in late November 2016 to Monekoe town." Its statement said Kachin organizations reported the church was partially destroyed by Myanmar army airstrikes following fierce fighting between the army and the Brotherhood of the Northern Alliance, the coalition of ethnic groups.

Myanmar's Kachin Baptist Convention, the largest church organization among the large Christian Kachin community, said the government and the military have ignored their pleas to clear up the matter.

"We have sent letters to the President's and the Commander-in-Chief's offices about the disappearance of our two pastors and we have not received anything from them yet," said Rev. Samson, the chairman of the Kachin Baptist Convention. Township police also failed to respond to inquiries by the two men's families, he said.

The statement by Human Rights Watch and Fortify Rights said Kachin and Shan civil society organizations "have documented unlawful killings, torture, rape, forced labor, and other abuses committed by Burmese military forces against civilians in Northern Shan and Kachin States."

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