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Two Catholic priests arrested by Myanmar junta

The reason for their arrest is not yet known as church officials try to get them released

Two Catholic priests arrested by Myanmar junta

Father John Bosco (left) and Father John Paul Lwel from St. Therese Little Way Missionary Institute were arrested by the military junta in Myanmar on Feb. 21. (Photo: Facebook)

Published: February 23, 2022 07:47 AM GMT

Updated: February 24, 2022 09:54 AM GMT

Myanmar’s military regime has arrested two Catholic priests who were on their way to help internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Shan state.

Father John Paul Lwel and Father John Bosco, who belong to the St. Therese Little Way Missionary Institute, were arrested by junta soldiers and the Pa-O National Army, an ethnic armed group, at a checkpoint on Feb. 21, said local church sources.

Senior clergy from Pekhon Diocese confirmed that the two religious priests have been arrested but said the reason for their arrest was not yet known.

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Church officials are trying to contact authorities for the release of the clergy.

Two car drivers and a young student were also arrested with the priests.

The arrest of the clergy came even as fighting between the military and people's defense forces (PDFs) intensified in Mobye township in Pekhon Diocese, where junta forces have deployed airstrikes, armored vehicles and heavy weapons.

Catholics who have fled their homes in Pekhon Diocese have taken refuge at church premises in Taunggyi Archdiocese

Thousands of people including Christians have been displaced due to the ongoing fighting.

Pekhon Diocese covers southern Shan state and is one of the worst-affected areas along with Loikaw Diocese in Kayah state due to the escalating conflict between the military and the combined rebel forces of the Karenni Army and newly emerged PDFs since May 2021.

Catholics who have fled their homes in Pekhon Diocese have taken refuge at church premises in Taunggyi Archdiocese.

Clergy have been regularly targeted by the junta. Nine priests from Banmaw, Mandalay and Hakha dioceses were arrested last year on suspicion of supporting the PDFs.

A diocesan priest was stopped and threatened with death by military soldiers while on his way back from Taunggyi to his parish on Oct. 30.

The junta has also specifically targeted churches and their institutions in Christian-dominated Kayah, southern Shan and Chin states, which have witnessed strong resistance to the military regime, mostly from young people including Christians.

At least a dozen Catholic churches have been destroyed or attacked in Chin state while seven churches from Kayah and a Cathedral in Pekhone Diocese have been attacked with artillery shelling and airstrikes on the suspicion of providing refuge to IDPs.

Christians have borne the brunt of the decades-old civil war and often face arbitrary arrests, killings, torture and rape at the hands of the military, which has ruled the country for more than five decades.

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