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Myanmar junta reduces historic Catholic village to ashes

More than 300 houses were destroyed in fires set during a military raid on Chan Thar village in Sagaing region
The remains of houses in Chan Thar village in Sagaing region which were set on fire by junta forces on June 7

The remains of houses in Chan Thar village in Sagaing region which were set on fire by junta forces on June 7. (Photo supplied)

Published: December 16, 2022 08:46 AM GMT
Updated: December 16, 2022 12:15 PM GMT

Soldiers continuing a junta arson campaign against villages in Myanmar's central Sagaing region, have again attacked a historic Catholic village and burned down almost all the homes previously left standing, according to local sources 

More than 300 houses, which were spared in previous attacks, were destroyed during a military raid on Chan Thar village in the predominantly Buddhist region on Dec. 14, they said.

It remains unclear if the century-old Assumption Church, a convent and the priest’s house were affected in this latest attack on the village, the third in seven months.

Buddhist villages nearby were also torched.

Some 20 houses were destroyed and two Catholics, including a mentally disabled man, were killed during a raid on May 7 and over 110 houses were set ablaze again by junta troops on June 7.

Local sources said almost all of the 500 houses in Chan Thar had been destroyed by fire on Dec. 14.

“Their villages are becoming a land of ashes"

“It is a historic Catholic village that has now become a place of ashes,” a priest from the village said.

Most of the villagers had already fled their homes for safer areas including church premises and relatives’ homes in Mandalay and other townships since January.

The junta specifically targeted three historic Catholic villages in the Bamar heartland of Sagaing to tackle growing resistance to military rule by people’s defense forces suspected of being based there.

Chaung Yoe, Mon Hla and Chan Thar, which are a part of Mandalay archdiocese, are known as Bayingyi villages because their inhabitants claim descent from Portuguese adventurers who arrived in the region in the 16th and 17th centuries. The villages have produced many bishops, priests, nuns and brothers.

The latest attack came nearly three weeks after more than 110 houses out of the 500 homes in Mon Hla, the home village of Cardinal Charles Bo, were set on fire on Nov. 24.

“Their villages are becoming a land of ashes lacking homes, trees and birds. I am deeply sorrowful over thousands of our brothers and sisters who can’t live in their own homes and instead live in makeshift camps who are facing acute hunger,” Archbishop Marco Tin Win said in a July 17 message.

The junta has stepped up its offensives in the Sagaing and Magwe regions with artillery shelling, air strikes and the burning of homes in several villages that have led to thousands of people becoming displaced.

As of Nov. 30, at least 38,000 homes had been destroyed across the country since the February 2021 coup, with the Sagaing region reporting the highest number with 27,496 destroyed homes, according to the latest report by Data for Myanmar.

The conflict triggered by the military takeover, particularly in Christian strongholds such as Kayah, Chin, Karen and Kachin states, has resulted in churches and convents being attacked and raided. Priests and pastors have also been killed and arrested while many unarmed civilians, including Christians, have been killed.

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