An armed policeman stands guard at a checkpoint on a roadside in Yangon, Myanmar, on Oct. 13. (Photo: AFP)
A church in Myanmar’s western Chin state, a predominantly Christian area, has been set on fire by the military as fighting rages in the mountainous region.
The Baptist church was burned along with four civilians’ homes in a village in Falam township on Oct. 13, according to Christian sources and media reports.
The fighting also led to hundreds of residents of at least five villages in Falam township fleeing into nearby jungles following the clash.
The church was targeted after fighting erupted between the military and the Chin National Army, which reportedly attacked a military’ convoy on the highway from Falam town to Hakah, the capital of Chin state, on Oct. 13.
The military has been reinforcing hundreds of troops with heavy weapons and armored vehicles in Falam, Hakha, Thangtlang and Mindat townships to launch a major offensive against the Chin National Front (CNF) in Chin state, according to Radio Free Asia.
The report said the CNF is the first ethnic armed group in Myanmar to have signed a pact with the National Unity Government, formed by ousted lawmakers, activists and ethnic groups, and it has also provided military training to newly established local resistance groups including the Chinland Defense Force.
Various denominations have condemned the disrespectful acts of the soldiers, including the consumption of alcohol inside places of worship
More than 20,000 people have been displaced in several townships in Chin state since fighting erupted in May.
The UN human rights office has warned that the deployment of troops and heavy weapons by the military in Chin state and Sagaing and Magwe regions over the past few weeks may lead to an imminent attack in these areas.
“The deployment of these high-level commanders coupled with the internet shutdown and the deployment of heavy arms to this area has really led us to become very alarmed and concerned that there may be an imminent attack, a very serious attack against the civilian population, which is why we are raising the alarm,” Ravina Shamdasani, the spokesperson of the UN human rights office, said last week.
On Oct. 3, the military raided a Catholic church in Kyaukthuh township, Magwe region, where displaced people from Mindat township had taken shelter, according to media outlet Zalen.
It said soldiers interrogated people and checked their phones for evidence of ties to local resistance groups. Around 150 people, mostly Christians, have taken refuge in the church’s compound since late September.
Catholic and Baptist churches in Chin state, an impoverished region, were targeted by the military in July and August as soldiers camped in the churches and destroyed church property.
Various denominations have condemned the disrespectful acts of the soldiers, including the consumption of alcohol inside places of worship, and called this a violation of the Geneva Convention.
On Sept. 18, a young Baptist pastor was shot dead by soldiers while he was on the way to help put out a fire in a house hit by shelling in Thantlang town in northern Chin state, where at least 19 houses were destroyed by a military assault that led to the entire population of 8,000 people fleeing their homes.
Nearly 1,200 people have been killed by the military junta since it seized power and toppled the elected civilian government including leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Feb. 1.