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June 13, 2003 ELCA News Service
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ELCA Pastor Naw-Karl Mua Detained in Laos

Chicago (ELCA)-FI — The Rev. Naw-Karl Mua, Light of Life Lutheran Church, St. Paul, Minn., a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has been detained by the government of Laos since June 3. Mua is reported to have accompanied two European journalists into the Xieng Khouang province of Laos to help them research a story on human rights violations and persecution of Hmong people by the Communist government in Laos.

Mua went to neighboring Thailand on May 12 for a missionary project, something he has done frequently in the past because he has family and a relationship with a Hmong congregation there. While in Thailand he met two journalists — Thierry Falise of Belgium and Vincent Reynaud of France — and entered Laos legally on May 23 as their translator.

Mua failed to return to the United States for his son's high school graduation, and his wife received an unconfirmed report that Lao military forces had killed her husband. The U.S. State Department refuted that report and said the Laotian government detained Mua with the two journalists, accused of cooperating with "bandits" to kill a security official in the remote northeastern village of Khai.

"Pastor Mua is clearly a leader in the Hmong community," said the Rev. Peter Rogness, bishop of the ELCA Saint Paul Area Synod. "He has organized two Hmong congregations in St. Paul and has also worked with church leaders in the ELCA Minneapolis Area Synod to serve the Hmong community there," he said.

Rogness added that Mua "has expressed concern to me about human rights issues in Laos and about the need for the U.S. government and the church to address these issues. However, nothing we know about him would be consistent with the charges against him by the Laotian government."

Mua is a native of Laos. He lived in a refugee camp in Thailand for one year before moving to France in 1978, where he lived until he immigrated to the United States in 1985. He is now a U.S. citizen.

Educated in the Twin Cities area at National American University and Bethel Seminary, Mua served as a pastor of Calvary Alliance Church, St. Paul, 1992-97, and as pastor of Hmong Central Lutheran Church, St. Paul, 1998-2002. Hmong Central is a congregation of the ELCA.

Mua was ordained an ELCA pastor in 2000. He is developing Light of Life Lutheran Church, which meets at Beaver Lake Lutheran Church, Maplewood, Minn., and is vice president of the Association of Asians/Pacific Islanders—ELCA.

"Karl is a very committed pastor, who has worked hard to build the Hmong Lutheran community in the Twin Cities and to be helpful to ministries beyond the Twin Cities," said the Rev. Richard A. Magnus, executive director, ELCA Division for Outreach. "He is a quiet but determined and effective leader. We hope that the international community will be effective to get him freed quickly," he said.

Staff members of the ELCA Saint Paul Area Synod are working through the Lutheran Office for Governmental Affairs (LOGA), Washington, D.C., and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), Geneva, Switzerland, to communicate with government officials and with other non-governmental agencies for Mua's release. LOGA is the ELCA's federal public policy advocacy office. The ELCA is one of 136 member churches of the LWF.

The international press-freedom association Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières) and the human rights organization Amnesty International are also appealing to the Laotian government to release the three men.