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3 churches damaged in airstrikes by Myanmar military

Mary Mother of Mercy Church in Loikaw diocese was among the places of worship attacked on Aug.12
A file photo of a destroyed Baptist Church in Lay Wah village, in Myanmar's Karen state

A file photo of a destroyed Baptist Church in Lay Wah village, in Myanmar's Karen state. (Photo: Karen Human Rights Group)

Published: August 16, 2023 10:49 AM GMT
Updated: August 16, 2023 11:38 AM GMT

Three churches have been damaged in airstrikes by the Myanmar military in a predominantly Christian region in the civil war-hit nation.

Mary Mother of Mercy Church in Htee Thaw Ku village in Loikaw diocese in Kayah state was hit in an airstrike on Aug.12. Its roof, ceiling and windows perished, though no human casualties were reported.

“The Catholic church was deliberately attacked amid the continued airstrikes and artillery shelling by the military in villages,” a local source, who requested anonymity, told UCA News on Aug. 16.

Two Baptist churches in Chin state, another predominantly Christian region, were damaged as a result of the airstrikes, according to local sources and a rights group.

Seven people were injured when residential areas were targeted in Ramtho village and four homes perished in Khuafo village, which was earlier bombed on March 30 resulting in the death of ten civilians, said the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO).

Myanmar’s military has stepped up attacks on rebel forces in Christian majority areas of Kayah, Chin, Kachin and Karen states, while its troops also burned several villages in the Bamar-heartland of Sagaing and Magwe regions where the army faces stiff resistance from armed rebel groups.

Military dictator General Min Aung Hlaing has again extended the state of emergency imposed since the coup two-and-a-half years ago. He has also postponed the promised elections.

Rebel groups have intensified their fight against the army after it sent ground troops to scale up its airstrikes and shelling.

The CHRO said the largest and oldest Baptist church in Hakah, the capital city of Chin state, came under attack on Aug. 14, damaging a residential property.

At least 100 religious sites, including 55 Christian buildings, have been destroyed since the February 2021 coup by the army in the Southeast Nation, according to rights groups reported.

Five out of 16 dioceses in the country — Loikaw, Pekhon, Hakha, Kalay and Mandalay — have witnessed a series of skirmishes.

At least ten churches have been hit in Loikaw diocese, where several parishes have been abandoned after thousands fled since the conflict between military and rebel forces erupted in May 2021. 

The return of the military junta in February 2021 after a brief civilian rule by the elected government of Nobel Peace winner Aung San Suu Kyi has reignited armed insurgency by ethnic rebel groups.

Church leaders have called for the protection of places of worship, places of learning, and places of healing by citing international agreements like the Hague Conventions.

“Deliberately bombing civilian targets and protected sites such as places of worship, then actively blocking medical aid from reaching injured civilians constitute grave breaches of the Geneva Convention governing the conduct of war,” CHRO tweeted on Aug.13.

The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) in a report on Aug. 8 said there is “strong evidence indicating that serious international crimes are being inflicted upon the people of Myanmar, including mass executions, torture and the deliberate bombing of civilian targets, including houses of worship.”

“Our evidence points to a dramatic increase in war crimes and crimes against humanity,” said Nicholas Koumjian, head of the IIMM.

Christians make up nearly 6 percent of Myanmar’s population of 54 million, a majority of them Buddhism.

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