Smoke and fire rises from Thantlang town in western Myanmar's Chin state on Oct. 29 as more than 160 buildings were destroyed by shelling from the military, according to local media. (Photo by AFP)
Myanmar’s military continues to target churches in predominantly Christian regions in the Buddhist-majority country ignoring appeals by the Catholic Church and world leaders.
St. Nicholas Catholic Church in the deserted town of Thantlang in western Myanmar’s Chin state was burned down by the military on Nov. 27, local media reports said.
The Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) said the junta set fire to many houses in Thantlang on Nov. 26, keeping them burning for three straight days as soldiers continued arson attacks.
The nearby church was reportedly among dozens of structures to be destroyed by the fire, according to CHRO.
The latest attack came within a couple of days of at least 49 buildings including Thantlang Centenary Baptist Church being burned to the ground.
More than 300 houses including four churches have been destroyed by military arson attacks in the town since September.
Attacking the cathedral is like attacking the hearts of each of the faithful and all the faithful feel sad due to attacks
At least 22 churches have been burned or destroyed by the military along with more than 350 civilian homes in Chin state between August and November, according to the CHRO.
Christian-majority Chin state has been at the forefront of resistance to the junta and has witnessed fierce attacks by the military including air strikes, heavy artillery and indiscriminate attacks on civilians. Hundreds have been arbitrarily detained and dozens killed.
More than 10,000 residents of Thantlang had already fled their homes as the military targeted homes during indiscriminate shooting and shelling incidents in September.
Church leaders including Pope Francis have called for the military not to target religious buildings as places of worship are the cultural property of a community covered by the international protocol.
Bishop Peter Hla of Pekhon Diocese in southern Shan state too called on the military not to attack cathedrals and other religious buildings.
The prelate’s call came following the shelling of Sacred Heart Cathedral in Pekhon town by the military three times in five months.
“Attacking the cathedral is like attacking the hearts of each of the faithful and all the faithful feel sad due to attacks,” Bishop Hla said in a letter.
Pekhon Diocese is one of the worst-affected areas along with Loikaw Diocese in Kayah state due to the escalating conflict since May.
At least five Catholic churches in Loikaw Diocese have been attacked by the military and a May 23 attack killed four Catholics and wounded eight others, while the cathedral, Marian shrine and convent in Pekhon Diocese were attacked.
More than 130,000 civilians have been forced to seek refuge in churches, convents and makeshift camps even while the military is targeting priests and pastors, bombing and vandalizing churches in the predominantly Christian region of Kayah and Chin states.
The latest military assault on Christians in Myanmar’s ethnic regions is not the first time the minority has been attacked and targeted. Christians have borne the brunt of the decades-old civil war and faced persecution at the hands of the military, which ruled for more than five decades.