Christian leader says Myanmar junta sympathetic to complaints of discrimination

The head of the World Council of Churches said Thursday that Myanmar's military government has agreed to investigate complaints of discrimination and abuse against Christians.

WCC General Secretary the Rev. Konrad Raiser met with Gen. Khin Nyunt, the third-ranking member of Myanmar's ruling junta, during a March 3-5 visit to Myanmar's capital Yangon, part of a four-nation Asian tour.

The Geneva-based council represents more than 340 Christian churches, denominations and fellowships worldwide.

Raiser spoke to reporters in Bangkok a day after U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell named Myanmar as one of six "countries of particular concern" for severe violations of religious freedom. The others were China, Iran, Iraq, North Korea and Sudan.

Raiser said he told Khin Nyunt not only of concerns about alleged second-class treatment of Christians in predominantly-Buddhist Myanmar, but also allegations of forced conversions, arson of churches and Christian women being raped by government soldiers.

He said Khin Nyunt was fully aware of the allegations, particularly those involving rape of members of ethnic minority groups along the border, such as the predominantly Christian Karen.

Khin Nyunt "said that his government has sent a team to probe those reports and also offered to take appropriate measures on future complaints," Raiser said.

In the course of their one-hour talk, Khin Nyunt stated that Christians would be treated properly and welcomed the WCC's ongoing involvement with its member churches in Myanmar, Raiser said.

The U.S. State Department in its most recent annual International Religious Freedom Report 2002, said Myanmar's junta "has imposed restrictions on certain religious activities and frequently abused the right to freedom of religion."

While stating that people of all faiths face repression, it said "the government continued to discriminate against members of minority religions, restricting the educational, proselytizing, and building activities of minority religious groups," including Christians.

Almost 90 percent of Myanmar's 42 million people are Buddhist, with about 4 percent Christian and 4 percent Muslim.

Raiser has already visited Laos and Thailand on his Asian tour, and heads next to Pakistan.