Bishop Says Mong Ko Church Damaged by Government Air Strikes

By Lawi Weng 23 December 2016

A Catholic Bishop in Lashio rejected claims by the Burma Army that joint ethnic armed group forces were to blame for a church damaged on Dec. 3 in the town of Mong Ko in Shan State’s Muse Township and maintained that it was bombed during Burma Air Force air strikes.

Bishop Philip Za Hawng stated in a letter dated Dec. 22 that reports that St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church of Munggu was used to store ammunition by the Northern Alliance were “fabricated” and the Burma Army previously took responsibility for bombing the building.

A Burma Army tactical commander in Mong Ko called the church’s Fr. Dau Hkawng to his office on Dec. 8 to say that the church had been hit during air strikes on Mong Ko and that the military would take responsibility for repairing the building, according to the Bishop’s letter.

According to the letter, the defense ministry issued a statement on Dec. 18 stating that the church was destroyed by explosives and ammunition secretly stored by the Northern Alliance.

“This was fabricated news and it could cause the general public to understand that the Catholic Church is involved in the fighting along with the rebels,” said the letter.

The Bishop reports that the situation in Mong Ko is stable and residents who fled across the border to China have returned but Burma Army soldiers are still stationed in the church compound.

On Nov. 20, the Northern Alliance—a coalition of the Kachin Independence Army (KIA), the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), the Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army (MNDAA), and the Arakan Army (AA) forces—launched a two-week offensive in northern Shan State, attacking Burma Army positions in several townships including Muse, Kutkai, and Hsenwi.

Northern Alliance forces retreated from Mong Ko village, Muse Township, following air strikes by the Burmese air force in the first week of December.