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Myanmar army launches fresh attack on prelate's village

Dozens of civilian homes, school building were set on fire on Holy Thursday in Cardinal Charles Bo's home village
Myanmar's junta chief military Min Aung Hlaing arrives to deliver a speech during a ceremony to mark the country's Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27.

Myanmar's junta chief military Min Aung Hlaing arrives to deliver a speech during a ceremony to mark the country's Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw on March 27. (Photo: AFP)

Published: April 01, 2024 06:59 AM GMT
Updated: April 01, 2024 11:48 AM GMT

Dozens of homes and a school building in a historic Catholic village in Myanmar have been torched by junta forces as they step up raids in the central Sagaing region.

About 50 homes and the school building were torched on March 28 (Holy Thursday) during a third attack on Mon Hla, a village where Catholics and Buddhists have lived in harmony for decades.

The high school building housed mostly Buddhist refugees who occupied in several months ago.

Villagers said around 100 soldiers and pro-junta militia descended on the village after raiding nearby villages that forced residents to flee.

Phyu Phyu, a Catholic villager, said many people fled their homes when they learned the junta forces were approaching.

“We didn’t have time to pack. We fled with the clothes we were wearing,” she told UCA News.

St. Michael Church, the convent, and the priest’s house in the village, however, were not set on fire.

“The junta forces entered the church compound and checked inside the church after opening the main door but they didn’t torch it,” a villager who requested anonymity.

With an estimated 500 households, Mon Hla has been repeatedly targeted by the junta. Two civilians, including a child, were killed and nearly 150 homes were torched in a raid in November 2022. That followed an airstrike in July which forced villagers to flee into the jungle.

Meanwhile, four civilians were killed during a raid on Chaung Yoe, another historic Catholic village in the Sagaing region, on March 22 triggering a mass exodus.

The village has also been subjected to several attacks and at least 320 out of the estimated 350 homes there were burned on May 20, 2022.

Mon Hla, Chaung Yoe, and Chan Thar, which are part of Mandalay archdiocese, are known as Bayingyi villages where people claiming to be descendants of Portuguese adventurers who arrived in Myanmar (formerly Burma) in the 16th and 17th centuries live.

The villages have produced many bishops, priests and nuns. Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon and Archbishop Marco Tin Win of Mandalay are natives of Mon Hla.

The latest attack on Mon Hla came a few days after Cardinal Bo called for prayers for peace in the civil war-hit Southeast Asian nation.

The 75-year-old cardinal, however, has avoided condemning the military, which toppled the civilian government in February 2021, for its attacks and the targeting of places of worship, schools, and hospitals.

Cardinal Bo met junta chief General Min Aung Hlaing in  December 2021 and they cut a Christmas cake together, triggering criticism from the Catholic and other communities.

The military is fighting armed groups and the newly emerged People Defense Force on multiple fronts in Kachin, western Rakhine and in the eastern Karenni and Karen states.

More than 2.7 million people have been displaced and more than 18.6 million people will need humanitarian aid this year, according to the latest report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.

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