The burned remains of buildings after air strikes and mortar attacks by the Myanmar military on a village in Doo Tha Htoo district in eastern Myanmar's Kayin state on May 3. (Photo: Free Burma Rangers/AFP)
The military has continued to target a historic Catholic village in Myanmar’s central Bamar heartland while the junta’s assault on civilians in predominantly Christian regions remains unabated.
At least 20 houses were burned during a military raid on Chan Thar village in the Sagaing region on May 7, according to local sources.
The raid prompted thousands of people to flee their homes to nearby safe areas. There were no reported civilian casualties from the assault.
“It’s so sad to hear the houses were burned down and destroyed with an intentional attitude,” said a priest from Chan Thar village.
A local Catholic said it was a sorrowful day as her home as well as those of her uncle, aunt and sister were among the houses burned. “How can I give moral support to the relatives and other villagers?” she asked.
The attack on the Catholic village came amid an escalation in fighting between the military and people’s defense forces (PDFs) in nearby areas.
Since January, thousands of Catholics from the village in a region where Christians and Buddhists have coexisted peacefully for decades have fled to safe areas near Mandalay
The village had already been raided at least three times by the military. Two people including one who was mentally disabled were shot dead and three people severely beaten in a raid on Jan. 10 while junta troops destroyed statues and looted property.
Since January, thousands of Catholics from the village in a region where Christians and Buddhists have coexisted peacefully for decades have fled to safe areas near Mandalay.
Three historic Catholic villages in Sagaing region, the Bamar heartland where resistance has been growing to the military among PDFs, have been targeted, while the military has continued attacking civilians’ homes and churches in predominantly Christian regions including Kayah state in eastern Myanmar.
Three villages in Mandalay archdiocese — Chaung Yoe, Monhla and Chan Thar — are known as Bayingyi villages where people are descended from Portuguese adventurers who arrived in the 16th and 17th centuries. The villages have produced many bishops, priests and religious nuns and brothers.
Last June, dozens of soldiers raided the Assumption Church and its clergy house in Chan Thar village and arrested six priests over suspected links to civil resistance groups.
Furthermore, some 100 soldiers raided the compound of Sacred Heart Cathedral in central Mandalay and searched every building thoroughly including the archbishop's house and clergy home for hidden weapons on April 8.
The conflict, particularly in predominantly Christian regions inhabited by the Kayah, Chin, Karen and Kachin minorities, has resulted in churches being shelled and raided. Priests and pastors have been arrested while many unarmed civilians have been killed.
Thousands of people including Catholics from Kayah, Chin, Karen and Kachin regions have been displaced and desperately need food, medicines and shelter as the junta has blocked humanitarian assistance, according to aid groups.