Four civilians were reportedly killed and around eight injured when military forces fired heavy artillery shells at a Catholic church in the Kayah state of Myanmar around 1 a.m. on Monday, damaging the roof, ceiling and the cross of the church after months of deadly attacks.
The Ministry of International Cooperation of the National Unity Government of Myanmar reported that elderly people and children fled from their homes to hide in a Catholic church in Kayan Thar Yar village after attacks on villagers from the junta military forces (Tatmadaw).
According to Union of Catholic Asia News, about 300 people from 60 families took refuge in the church compound due to clashes between the anti-coup resistance group called the People’s Defense Force and the military.
The outlet reports that all those killed in the church were Catholics.
Father Soe Naing, a spokesperson for Loikaw Diocese, told UCANews that people sheltering in the church fled the premises by the time officials checked the damaged building later on Monday. He explained that thousands in Myanmar have taken refuge at churches and other religious centers because they are thought to be safe locations.
Fides News Agency, the information services of the Pontifical Mission Societies, reports that the military attacked the area with the aim of killing rebel groups and one of the mortar shells hit the church.
Two days earlier, military forces raided a Karen Baptist Church in Insein, Yangon, and destroyed property. According to the Ministry of International Cooperation, military forces “brutally beat” and detained the pastor and two young men, one of whom was disabled.
These instances are part of a series of violent attacks on Christians and churches since the Feb. 1 military coup, when civilian government leader Aung San Suu Kyi was arrested and deposed.
The coup was met with widespread national protests. Police and military responded with violence. According to the London-based Christian Solidarity Worldwide, the military especially targeted Chrisitan leaders.
The attacks on the churches come as fighting erupted in recent days in the Kayah State’s Demoso Township. Last week, activists reported that over 800 people have been killed nationwide by security forces cracking down on a wave of protests since the coup.
H.E. Dr. Sasa, union minister of the Ministry of International Cooperation and National Unity Government spokesperson, urged the international community to respond to the continuing crisis in Myanmar.
“I urgently appeal to the international communities and the responsible Governments around the world to make immediate actions and intervention efforts to end this senseless killing of civilians in Myanmar, destruction of Churches and targeting of already oppressed and marginalized ethnic communities," Sasa stressed in a statement.
The spokesperson called on the world to "support the brave people of Kayah and of Myanmar overcome this brutal reign of terror by the junta ‘SAC’ forces and restore democracy, human rights, and freedom to ALL."
Sasa said the aim is to have a Myanmar where people of all backgrounds, religions, races and genders will be treated as "equals."
“We have been doing everything we can around the clock, and now we need the support, recognition, actions and intervention from the intentional communities before more innocent civilians are slaughtered,” Sasa continued. “Myanmar will forever be an ally, friend and partner of all those who help us during this darkest hour of our history.”
Benedict Rogers, CSW’s Senior Analyst for East Asia, said in a statement that “civilians in Myanmar have now been subjected to horrific violations at the hands of the Tatmadaw for well over 100 days."
"We extend our deepest condolences to all those who have lost loved ones in the recent attack on the Catholic church in Kayan Thar Yar and continue to call on the Tatmadaw to cease all targeting of innocent and unarmed civilians," Rogers said. "The international sanctions introduced so far have been welcome, but states can and must do more to cut off funding to the Tatmadaw and increase pressure on it to halt its assault on the people of Myanmar."
CSW urges international governments to impose a global arms embargo.
During February’s coup, the military declared a year-long state of emergency and put civilian leaders under house arrest, CSW reported.
The U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom raised concern about the safety of religious minorities in the coup's aftermath.
“Given the history of brutal atrocities by the Burmese military, our fear is that violence could quickly escalate, especially towards religious and ethnic communities, such as the Rohingya and other Muslims,” USCIRF Vice Chair Anurima Bhargava said in a statement. “We urge the Burmese military to honor the faith and will of the Burmese people and restore democratic civilian rule as soon as possible."
Myanmar is ranked No. 18 on Open Doors’ 2021 World Watch List of countries where Christian persecution is most severe due to its religious nationalism and increasing emphasis on Buddhism.
Myanmar is also home to the longest civil war in the world, which began in 1948. More than 100,000 people, mainly Christians, have been displaced due to the persecution, according to Open Doors.
Emily Wood is a reporter for The Christian Post. She can be reached at: email@example.com