Updated: May 26, 2021 07:04 AM GMT
Sacred Heart Church in Kayah state where four people taking refuge were killed by military shelling on May 23. (Photo: Kantarawaddy Times/AFP)
“It is with immense sorrow and pain that we record our anguish at the attack on innocent civilians who sought refuge in Sacred Heart Church in Kayantharyar village near Loikaw on May 23 night," he said in a May 25 statement.
“The violent acts including continuous shelling, using heavy weaponry on a frightened group of largely women and children, resulted in the tragic death of four people and wounding more than eight.”
Cardinal Bo, who is president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar, said the church in Kayah state suffered extensive damage, bearing witness to the intensity of attack on a place of worship.
He noted that places of worship are the cultural property of a community covered by international protocols.
“Churches, hospitals and schools are protected during conflict under the Hague Conventions,” he said. “The blood that is spilled is not some enemy’s blood; those who died and those who were wounded are the citizens of this country. They were not armed; they were inside the church to protect their families.”
There are many children and old people among them, forced to starve and without any medical aid
The midnight attack caused helpless people to flee into the jungle. Their fate is still not known to the outside world.
“Food, medicine and hygiene are urgent needs but there is no way of reaching them. There are many children and old people among them, forced to starve and without any medical aid. This is a great humanitarian tragedy,” Cardinal Bo said.
He urged all sides not to escalate the conflict. “Our people are poor. Covid-19 robbed them of their livelihood, starvation stalks millions, the threat of another round of Covid-19 is real. Conflict is a cruel anomaly at this moment.”
Thousands of civilians were forced to flee their homes in Kayah and neighboring Shan state and take refuge at churches and convents while others fled into the jungle as a result of fighting between the military and the People’s Defense Forces and Karenni National Progressive Party last weekend.
A Karen Baptist church in Yangon, the commercial hub, was also raided by security forces who destroyed property. They also beat and arrested the pastor along with two youths hiding in the church.
In April, churches in Kachin state and Pathein Diocese in the Irrawaddy Delta were raided by security forces.
It is not uncommon in conflict-torn Myanmar for Christians to be targeted. A Catholic church in Shan state was bombed by military airstrikes in 2017 and another Catholic church was attacked by the military in Kachin state in 2018.
More than 60 churches have been destroyed in Kachin state since the long-standing ceasefire broke down in 2011, according to Christian Solidarity Worldwide.