Protestant Pastor Held For Crossing China-Myanmar Border Closed in Conflict

Authorities in the southwestern Chinese province of Yunnan on Tuesday criminally detained a pastor from an unofficial Protestant organization on illegal immigration charges.

Cao Sanqiang, of the "house church" network China Ministries International, was formally detained by police in Yunnan's Menglian county on charges of "organizing the illegal crossing of a national border."

He is currently being held in the Menglian Detention Center, according to a fellow pastor who carries out missionary work across the border in northern Myanmar's Wa state.

"A colleague told me that he was initially charged with personally crossing a border illegally, but that now he is being charged with organizing illegal border crossings," the pastor said.

"We will file a lawsuit about this; we have already hired a lawyer," he said.

Cao had been engaged in missionary and poverty relief work across the border in northern Myanmar, until his work was disrupted by recent military conflict in the region, the pastor said.

"Cao Sanqiang was in Wa state helping them to build a school, and he was involved in other poverty reduction projects," the pastor said. "But the border was recent closed completely because of the fighting."

A colleague of Cao's surnamed Wu at the Chinese Ministries International network said he had been working as a teacher and child-minder as well as building a school and carrying out missionary work for several years.

"He'd been there a long time; several years," Wu said. "They had a school there."

Dozens have been reported killed in recent skirmishes between Myanmar government troops and regional ethnic militias that have driven more than 30,000 people to flee to safety, mostly to Yunnan, where the Chinese government and aid groups are housing them in refugee camps.

Calls by the Chinese government for an immediate cease-fire and the restoration of order along the border area have been ignored.

Border crossings

Cao was initially detained on March 5, his mother confirmed to RFA.

"[But] I don't know the details, like whether or not the lawyer has managed to see him," she said. "It has already been [nearly 30 days] ... but there's nothing to report yet."

A Protestant church member from Yunnan's Dehong autonomous prefecture said Chinese nationals usually make repeated border crossings using a pass issued by the Yunnan authorities, but occasionally fall foul of the police.

"I had a friend who escorted four or five people out of ... Myanmar to do manual work in Simao township on this side of the border, but they were detained, and he was sentenced to seven years in jail," the church member said.

"He was a manual worker out of Myanmar, but he was eventually caught and given a seven-year jail term as a snakehead," he said, using a slang term for a human trafficker.

The church follower, who asked to remain anonymous, said the Chinese authorities crack down more harshly on illegal border crossings than the authorities in Myanmar do.

"If they organize illegal border crossings in Myanmar they don't get caught; it's only when people cross from Myanmar that they get caught, and there has been a big crackdown ever since last December," he said.

"That's when Pastor Cao got into trouble, during the crackdown."

Repeated calls to the Menglian county police department rang unanswered in March.

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