An aerial photograph shows smoke rising from fires after military shelling in Thantlang in Myanmar's Chin State on Oct. 29, 2021. (Photo: AFP)
Churches in Myanmar’s predominantly Christian regions continue to be primary targets for the military junta despite calls by Catholic leaders to protect places of worship.
At least 15 parishes in Loikaw Diocese have been severely affected by escalating fighting, while at least seven Catholic churches have been hit by artillery shelling and airstrikes.
A senior clergy from the diocese told UCA News that they were in the middle of a war zone with sounds of gunfire, artillery shelling and airstrikes a daily affair.
“Amid the worsening situation, we remain together with hundreds of IDPs [internally displaced persons], especially women, children and the elderly in Loikaw town,” he said.
On Feb. 15, a building in the compound of Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Doungankhar, Demoso township, was hit by artillery shelling by the military.
The extent of damage could not be ascertained as church officials could not reach the place amid ongoing fighting, said a senior clergy. The church was also hit by artillery shelling in June 2021.
More than 650 houses and other civilian properties including churches, monasteries and schools have been burned or destroyed in Kayah since May 2021
Meanwhile, soldiers encamped inside the Sacred Heart of Jesus Church in Doukhu Parish of Loikaw township in Kayah state destroyed windows and pictures of the Way of the Cross three days ago, according to church sources.
The church was hit by military airstrikes on Jan.12 and one of the two bell towers was destroyed. But there were no reports of civilian casualties.
A local priest condemned the attack as an “abomination, desecration and sacrilege.”
A Baptist church and a camp for IDPs in a village in Demoso township were also hit by military shelling on Feb. 10, injuring one person.
Fighting continues to escalate between the military and people's defense forces (PDFs) in the Catholic stronghold of Kayah state.
More than 650 houses and other civilian properties including churches, monasteries and schools have been burned or destroyed in Kayah since May 2021, according to reports cited by the UN.
At least 170,000 civilians in Karenni state or more than half of the state’s population of 300,000 have been forced from their homes due to the ongoing conflict, according to the Karenni Civil Society Network.
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.
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.