Updated: June 09, 2021 06:46 AM GMT
Children and elders displaced by fighting between the military and ethnic rebels wait for food distributed by volunteer groups while taking refuge at a monastery in Namlan in Myanmar's eastern Shan state. (Photo: AFP)
A priest from Loikaw Diocese in eastern Myanmar’s Kayah state has called for an end to attacks on religious buildings following military assaults on three Catholic churches within the space of two weeks.
“We appeal to armed groups not to deploy troops, attack and burn down places of worship such as temples, mosques and churches as well as hospitals and schools,” Father Celso Ba Shwe, apostolic administrator of Loikaw, said in the letter released on June 8.
Without specifying the military, he warned that intentionally attacking places of worship, hospitals and schools constitutes war crimes under the Hague Conventions.
The priest said churches, convents and monasteries have opened their doors to fleeing civilians — especially the elderly, children, women, the sick and the disabled — regardless of religion and race as fighting escalates in Kayah state and neighboring Shan state.
Civilians who have taken refuge in churches and temples have had to flee to other areas for safety, often accompanied by priests and nuns, according to Father Ba Shwe.
The priest took the role of apostolic administrator of Loikaw on Dec. 21, 2020, following Bishop Stephen Tjephe’s death on Dec. 16.
Local sources say the attacks are deliberate as churches situated in big compounds are obvious targets and seen from far away
In a critical situation with indiscriminate attacks, injustice and political turmoil, Loikaw Diocese has urged the faithful to recite the rosary at 7pm every day to bring peace and justice to the conflict-torn nation.
The latest appeal from the Church came a day after Our Lady, Queen of Peace Church in Doungankhar, Demoso township, was hit by military shelling.
Sacred Heart Church in Kantharyar village near Loikaw was hit by artillery shelling on May 23 night, killing four people and wounding at least eight others. St. Joseph Church in Demoso town, one of the key sites of fighting, was also hit by military artillery on May 26 night.
Local sources say the attacks are deliberate as churches situated in big compounds are obvious targets and seen from far away.
The attack on Sacred Heart Church prompted Cardinal Charles Bo to condemn the act and call for an end to attacks on places of worship as they are protected under international protocols.
The Church has played a vital role in providing refuge for internally displaced persons at churches and convents and supporting humanitarian aid to them.
Over 100,000 people in Kayah state have been displaced by fighting that has included indiscriminate attacks by security forces on civilians, according to the UN.
More than 175,000 people have been displaced in Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin and Shan states
“People fleeing and those remaining in locations affected by ongoing hostilities are in urgent need of food, water, shelter, fuel and access to health care,” the UN said on June 8.
It said lack of security, travel restrictions imposed by security forces and poor road conditions are delaying the distribution of supplies.
More than 175,000 people have been displaced in Kachin, Kayah, Karen, Chin and Shan states — areas with large Christian populations — since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the UN refugee agency.
Fighting between the military and ethnic armed groups and local resistance groups has been escalating in Kachin, Kayah, Karen and Chin states following the brutal crackdown against anti-coup protesters by the military that has led to at least 857 deaths.