Updated: August 31, 2021 06:15 AM GMT
Sacred Heart Church in Loikaw in Kayah state was shelled by the military, leading to the deaths of four people taking refuge in the building on May 24. (Photo: Kantarawaddy Times/AFP)
Christian leaders from various denominations gathered to hold a service to reconsecrate a Baptist church in western Myanmar following its occupation by the military.
Soldiers who camped in the church in Taal village of Falam township in Chin state in July and early August threw away Bibles and hymn books and left behind rubbish and leftover food.
Dozens of Christian leaders took part in a prayer and worship service on Aug. 28 that was intended to cleanse the church physically and spiritually following inappropriate and disrespectful acts by the troops.
The army’s occupation of the church came as fighting between the military and local civil resistance groups intensified in Chin state, a predominantly Christian area.
Various denominations from Falam township and the Institute of Chin Affairs have condemned the acts of troops during their occupation of the Baptist church.
“The occupation of the church and destruction of church property is a violation of the Geneva Convention and we call for an end to acts against international humanitarian and human rights law,” the institute said in an Aug. 24 statement.
Christians have been targeted following the coup on Feb. 1 and at least six churches have been attacked by the military
Around 150 villagers from Taal were forced to leave their homes and take refuge in safe areas following the soldiers entering the village, camping there and destroying homes and other property and taking cattle, according to the institute.
Thousands of people have fled into jungles and displacement camps while others, mostly Christians, have taken refuge in churches since fighting erupted in May in impoverished Chin state.
Christians have been targeted following the coup on Feb. 1 and at least six churches have been attacked by the military, including Sacred Heart Church in Kayah state which was hit by artillery shelling on May 23, killing four people and wounding at least eight others.
Clergy have also been targeted, with the military arresting eight priests from Chin and Kachin states and Mandalay division in May and June.
Fighting has been escalating between the military and ethnic armed groups and local resistance groups in Chin, Kayah, Kachin, Karen and Shan states since February, leading to more than 200,000 people being displaced.
Christians are a minority in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, accounting for 6.2 percent of its 54 million people.