Myanmar Junta Soldiers Torch Century-Old Church in Sagaing

By The Irrawaddy 16 January 2023

Junta troops torched a century-old Catholic church in the predominantly Christian village of Chan Thar in Ye-U township, Sagaing Region on Sunday, according to residents.

Junta soldiers entered the village and began torching houses on Saturday. They then stayed in the 129-year-old Assumption Church overnight before setting fire to it early on Sunday morning, the day of worship for Christians, a Christian resident of Chan Thar told The Irrawaddy.

“They arrived around 8 am on Saturday. They torched houses the whole day. They then stayed in the church compound, and left this morning after torching the church,” the resident said on Sunday.

Most of the 800 households in Chan Thar, which is located in western Ye-U township, are Christians while the rest are Buddhist. The village has been repeatedly raided by junta forces since last year.

The belltower stands blackened after being torched by troops.   15 / CJ

Junta soldiers also stayed in the church compound during previous raids, looting and drinking alcohol in the house of worship, said residents.

A spokesperson for Ye-U township People’s Defense Force said junta troops came from Depayin (Tabayin) on January 13 and raided Char Thar as well as neighboring Kone Thar village.

This was the regime’s second raid in a month, after two columns of junta troops torched 17 villages in Ye-U and surrounding areas from December 10-19.

“They torched houses that were not burnt in previous raids,” said residents of the latest attack.

Troops that raided Kone Thar and Chan Thar belong to the junta’s Light Infantry Battalion 364 based in Mawleik, Sagaing, and a Light Infantry Battalion based in Yangon’s Hmawbi, according to the Ye-U township PDF.

Junta troops torched the villages without provocation as there was no ongoing fighting in the area. Chan Thar villagers managed to flee before the latest raid. However, when junta troops attacked the village in June last year, they beheaded two men in their 40s, said Ye-U township PDF.

This time they torched three religious buildings including a convent, leaving some gutted, according to local reports.

Junta troops leave a message warning Chan Thar villagers ‘to flee or be killed in the next attack’ during a raid in June last year. / CJ

“We feel deeply sorry. This is a sacred site for Christians, and the venue where Christian events are celebrated annually,” said another village.

Chan Thar residents are the descendants of Portuguese traders and adventurers who began arriving in Myanmar in the 16th century to seek their fortunes. The village was reportedly built more than 370 years ago. The church was consecrated on February 18, 1894 and celebrated its centenary in 1994.

The Irrawaddy’s call to Cardinal Charles Maung Bo to ask about the junta’s arson attack on the historic church went unanswered.

The cardinal, who was awarded the title of Thiri Pyan Chi by junta chief Min Aung Hlaing last year, has been silent about the junta’s atrocities against Christian followers and holy sites. He did not speak a word even after junta troops torched houses in his native Mone Hla Village in Khin-U Township, Sagaing in November last year, the same month he was awarded his title.

Last month, the cardinal hosted the junta boss at a Christmas Mass in Yangon’s Holy Trinity Cathedral, where he preached peace amid Min Aung Hlaing’s ongoing bombing campaign of civilian targets. In his sermon, he called on people to build the essence of Christmas with love and kindness and quoted the Gospel of Luke in praying for “peace on Earth and goodwill toward men.”

The junta’s bombing campaign has so far killed at least 460 civilians, according to the parallel civilian National Unity Government.