More churches burned down by Myanmar military amid massacres in predominantly Christian state

This aerial photo taken on October 29, 2021, show smokes and fires from Thantlang, in Chin State, where more than 160 buildings have been destroyed caused by shelling from Junta military troops, according to local media.
This aerial photo taken on October 29, 2021, show smokes and fires from Thantlang, in Chin State, where more than 160 buildings have been destroyed caused by shelling from Junta military troops, according to local media. | STR/AFP via Getty Images

Two Christian churches were among over 50 buildings burned down by Myanmar military troops on Thursday in the Thantlang township of the Chin state as the junta has razed several villages in recent months in the predominantly Christian province.

The Chin Human Rights Organization reported that the Assembly of God Church and a church belonging to the Thantlang Association of Baptist Churches were burned down by military forces. The watchdog further claimed that Light Infantry Battalions 222 and 269, as well as Light Infantry Division 66, were responsible for “the arson fires.”

“Drone image taken today of the arson fire on Dec 30 confirms the destruction of the Assembly of God Church and one of the office buildings of Thantlang Association of Baptist Churches (TABC), the largest religious organization in the Township,” a tweet from the human rights group reads. “Over 50 buildings were destroyed.”

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Since the military coup of February 2020 that saw the overthrow of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, security forces have re-embraced scorched-earth tactics to combat opposition militias in various regions of the country, killing civilians along the way. 

The Buddhist nationalist military had used similar tactics in the past to target ethnic minority groups, such as its genocide of the predominantly Muslim Rohingya people that began in 2016 and attacks against predominantly Christian Kachin and Karenni ethnic minorities.  

This year, the Myanmar military — known as the Tatmadaw — has stepped up operations in the northwest Chin state and neighboring Sagaing. This month alone, several villages have been razed and civilians killed or abducted.

According to Salai Za Uk Ling of the Chin Human Rights Organization, post-coup violence has led to more than 20% of the state’s population (about 500,000 people) becoming displaced. 

In the Sagaing region, more than 80 have died in killings of three or more since August, according to data compiled by the Myanmar conflict watchdog group Assistance Association for Political Prisoner. The group estimates that at least 1,384 people have been killed since the military coup as of Thursday. 

An Associated Press investigation based on interviews with 40 witnesses and satellite imagery from Maxar Technologies suggests that at least 580 buildings have been burned down in Thantlang since September. 

An attack on Dec. 7 saw over 50 soldiers chasing civilians on foot in the Chin town of Done Taw. While many fled, 10 were captured and killed, including five teenagers, according to a 19-year-old farmhand who spoke with AP. 

A witness interviewed by AP said the victims of the Done Taw attack “were just normal workers on the betel-leaf plantation.” 

Witnesses told AP that nine people, including one child, were reportedly killed during an attack in the Magway region on Dec. 17. 

On Christmas Eve, the Karenni Human Rights Group reported that as many as 35 displaced people, including elders and children, were killed and their bodies burned near Mo So village of Hpruso town of the Kayah state, an eastern region home to the ethnic minority. 

Thursday’s attack was not the first time churches were burned in Thantlang township. On Dec. 4, a United Pentecostal church and its clergy quarters were among 19 buildings set on fire in an arson attack carried out by the military, according to Chin Human Rights Organization. 

Former regional minister Salai Isaac Khin reported on Facebook that ousted Vice President Henry Van Thio used to attend the Pentecostal church, according to the United States-based watchdog group International Christian Concern.

St. Nicholas Catholic Church in Thantlang was burned down on Nov. 27. 

According to the Chin Human Rights Organization, at least 22 churches were burned down or destroyed between August and November in the Chin state, the Union of Catholic Asia News reports.

Myanmar is recognized by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for engaging in egregious violations of religious freedom. Open Doors USA, which monitors Christian persecution in over 60 countries, ranks Myanmar as the 18th-worst country globally when it comes to Christian persecution. 

ICC Regional Manager Gina Goh previously stated that the Myanmar military is “notorious for its relations with the ultranationalist ultra-Buddhist group the Ma Ba Tha” and targets religious minority groups like Muslims and Christians. She warned earlier this year if the military regained power, it would “resort to things they were doing before they passed the power to the civilian government.”

In November, the U.S. State Department condemned the Myanmar military after setting over 100 homes and two churches on fire in the Chin state. 

“We condemn such brutal actions by the Burmese regime against people, their homes, and places of worship, which lays bare the regime’s complete disregard for the lives and welfare of the people of Burma,” the State Department stressed. “We are also deeply concerned over the Burmese security forces’ intensification of military operations in various parts of the country, including in Chin State and the Sagaing Region. We call on the regime to immediately cease the violence, release all those unjustly detained, and restore Burma’s path to inclusive democracy.”  

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