Military and police forces raided a Catholic Church clinic in conflict-torn eastern Myanmar, arresting four doctors and 14 nurses they accused of helping groups resisting junta rule, sources said Tuesday.
Troops also forced 60 patients at the Mercy Clinic at the Christ the King Catholic Church in Loikaw, capital of eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state, to move to hospitals under military control, while some 40 pregnant women and other patients were trapped on church grounds for most of the day, the sources said.
Those arrested in Monday’s raid are being held at an interrogation center for questioning and are out of touch with their friends, one clinic worker told RFA on Tuesday, speaking on condition of anonymity out of fear of retaliation by authorities.
“The compound was closed and searches were made from 9:00 a.m. until 4:00 in the afternoon,” the source said, adding that the clinic, its attached buildings, and the office of the clinic’s senior priest were all ransacked during the search.
“The four doctors were involved in charity work, and the rest were nurses and volunteers. They were all taken away yesterday for investigation and have not been released,” he said.
A Catholic priest and two nuns accompanied the medical workers who were taken away at gunpoint in three vehicles owned by the church, he and other sources said.
Another witness to the raid said that nuns left behind in the raid told him that soldiers had confiscated clinic registration books during their search. The doctors had already been taken away, he said.
“It was past 12 noon, and so I came out, but the whole compound had been closed down, and no one was allowed to enter or leave,” he said. “I heard later that the church’s priests and nuns had wept as the young staff and volunteers were taken away.”
Residents of the area said that Mercy Clinic had provided free treatment for people of all ethnic groups for more than 20 years, with the elderly and chronically ill among the majority of its patients.
Health workers involved in the nonviolent Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) resisting military rule in Myanmar had treated patients at the clinic for about five months, sources said.
Local residents believe that government troops may have suspected that People’s Defense Force (PDF) fighters were also being treated at the clinic, but a church official speaking on condition of anonymity said that the military had appeared only to target CDM health workers treating patients at the site.
Attempts to reach Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for Myanmar’s ruling State Administration Council, for comment were unsuccessful.
The director of Kayah state’s Karenni Human Rights Group said the military raid at Mercy Clinic had violated international law.
“It is very clear that raids on religious buildings and clinics are against international humanitarian laws, and arresting health workers is a violation of these regulations,” the rights group director named Banya said.
“The junta is violating the basic human right to life by raiding clinics that are providing public health services,” Banya said.
The ethnic Karenni National Defense Force (KNDF) and the Health Ministry of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) both condemned the military’s raid at Mercy Clinic in statements on Monday.
Military forces have detained a total of 174 people so far in Kayah state since the Feb. 1 coup that overthrew the National League for Democracy (NLD) civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, according to figures provided by the Progressive Karenni People’s Movement.
Reported by RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Richard Finney.