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Myanmar army drops lawsuit against religious leader who complained to Trump of persecution

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By Reuters

By Shoon Naing

YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar’s army said on Monday it had dropped a criminal complaint against a religious leader who told U.S President Donald Trump the military was oppressing Christians, days after the United States voiced concern about the lawsuit.

Reverend Hkalam Samson, of the Kachin Baptist Convention, an organization based in the northern Kachin state representing Myanmar’s mostly Christian Kachin minority, took part in a gathering at the White House in July, when victims of religious persecution met with Trump and other U.S. officials.

Samson told Trump that Christians were being “oppressed and tortured by the Myanmar military government” in the Buddhist-majoity country. He also thanked Trump for imposing sanctions against top generals over Myanmar’s crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, saying it was “very helpful”.

A military officer, Lieutenant Colonel Than Htike, then filed a lawsuit against Samson, but a spokesman told Reuters on Monday that it had now been formally withdrawn.

“We withdraw the case voluntarily because it is what we should do,” army spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said by phone, without giving a reason.

Samson called the move a positive gesture towards the Kachin people.

“We welcome this issue being finished with understanding and without needing to be brought to the court,” he said.

The move came after the U.S State Department last Thursday expressed concern about the lawsuit, which it said had sought “to unduly limit his freedom of expression and potentially could disrupt his critical work on behalf of tens of thousands of internally displaced people”.

In July, the United States banned Myanmar military Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing, three other senior commanders and their families from entering the United States, in the strongest steps yet taken by Washington in response to a massacre of the Rohingya Muslims.

A military crackdown in Myanmar in 2017 drove more than 730,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, according to United Nations figures. U.N. investigators have said Myanmar’s operation included mass killings, gang rapes and arson and was executed with “genocidal intent”.

Myanmar denies the charge, saying it was conducting a legitimate campaign against insurgents who attacked police posts, killing members of the security forces.

(Editing by Gareth Jones)