Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Kayah state was hit by airstrikes on Jan 12. (Photo: Facebook)
Myanmar’s military junta has continued targeting churches and civilians in predominantly Christian regions where thousands of people have been displaced.
Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Doukhu Parish of Loikaw township in Kayah state was hit by military airstrikes on Jan. 12, according to church sources.
One of the two bell towers of the church was destroyed but there were no reported casualties of civilians.
A local priest slammed the attack as abominable and sacrilegious. “Most tragically, the ones who are suffering because of the brutal persecution are the people of God,” he wrote on Facebook.
The latest attack came as the junta continued aerial bombardments and artillery shelling in Loikaw, capital of Kayah state, during intense fighting with local militias and armed groups.
The UN said half the population of Loikaw has been uprooted by the recent conflict and around 90,000 people from Kayah state have been displaced. Local aid groups estimated at least 170,000 people in Kayah state have fled their homes.
We will stay until the situation worsens despite almost all the people from the town having already left
Six parishes in Loikaw township have been abandoned as all people have fled their homes.
Father Francis Soe Naing, chancellor of Loikaw Diocese, said the clergy, nuns and parishioners had to leave as some parishes near Loikaw became a war zone.
“We will stay until the situation worsens despite almost all the people from the town having already left,” he said.
At least 15 parishes in Loikaw Diocese that covers Kayah state have been severely affected by the escalating fighting, while at least seven Catholic churches in the diocese have been hit by artillery shelling and airstrikes.
More than 650 houses and other civilian properties including churches, monasteries and schools have been burned or destroyed in Kayah state since May 2021, according to reports cited by the UN.
Kayah state, a remote and mountainous region, is regarded as a stronghold of Catholicism in the Buddhist-majority country. About 90,000 Catholics live in the state with a population of 355,000.
The region bordering Thailand was relatively peaceful for decades but has seen intense fighting since May 2021.
The junta is now battling ethnic armed groups and local militia groups on multiple fronts including Kayah state where they have continued assaults on civilians with bombing and airstrikes.
Myanmar has witnessed intense fighting between the military junta and rebel forces in the past few months in ethnic areas
On Christmas Eve, more than 35 civilians including two children were killed and their bodies set on fire in Mo So village, Hpruso township, by troops.
The UN’s children’s agency, UNICEF, said it was gravely concerned about the escalating conflict and slammed the killing of at least four children. Multiple others have been maimed over the past week.
It said a 12-year-old girl and 16-year-old boy from Loikaw were hit by heavy weaponry following intense airstrikes and mortar attacks.
Myanmar has witnessed intense fighting between the military junta and rebel forces in the past few months in ethnic areas, including predominantly Christian Kayah, Chin and Karen states, where civilians have been forced to leave their homes and flee to forests or take shelter in church institutions.