The Myanmar military regime has destroyed more than 100 Buddhist and Christian religious buildings in resistance strongholds in the country’s northwest, heartland and southeast since the coup last year.
Since late last year, the junta has conducted artillery and airstrikes on civilian areas in Chin State and Sagaing and Magwe regions, as well as in Kayah State. It has been facing strong resistance from local people in all those areas.
The regime’s attacks on civilian targets in predominantly Buddhist and Christian areas haven’t spared religious buildings, in which people often taken shelter when clashes erupt.
In predominantly Christian Chin State, nearly 35 churches and 15 affiliated buildings were destroyed in junta attacks between February 2021 and January 2022, according to the Chin Human Rights Organization.
In mostly Christian Kayah State in southeastern Myanmar, about 12 churches were destroyed in the same period, the Karenni Human Rights Group said.
In May last year, the regime forces’ continuous shelling of the Sacred Heart Church in Kayah State’s capital Loikaw killed four people taking shelter there, not to mention causing damage to the religious building. The junta’s claim that the building harbored resistance fighters was largely denied by people there. The attack prompted Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo to request that the regime refrain from targeting religious buildings.
But the regime forces ignored the cardinal’s request, shelling one of the main churches in Kayah State’s Demoso Township, the Queen of Peace Church, on June 6.
A Karenni Christian leader said the regime had shelled churches even during times when there was no fighting between junta and resistance forces. Sometime it attacked religious buildings located away from the combat areas, he said.
“They are attacking the churches intentionally to suppress the spirit of Christian people by attacking their sacred churches. I condemn their bad intentions,” he said, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons.
Thantlang has been the worst-affected area in Chin State in Myanmar’s northwest, suffering artillery and arson attacks by the regime 26 times since September last year, forcing residents to desert the town. During the attacks, a Chin pastor was shot dead and his wedding ring cut from his finger by Myanmar junta soldiers when he went outside to help put out fires caused by the military’s shelling. Aerial pictures of the smoldering town with smoke snaking upward to the sky shocked the world. Three churches in the town caught on fire on Oct. 29 alone.
On Nov. 1, Washington condemned the Myanmar junta’s horrific use of violence in Chin State.
The targeting of churches in Kayah and Chin states reflects the regime’s frustration at not being able to assert control in the states despite almost 10 months of intense fighting against Karenni and Chin resistance fighters, during which the regime has resorted to using airstrikes and heavy weapons including artillery.
Additionally, the regime’s forces—who have vowed to protect Buddhism—have destroyed and launched arson attacks on Buddhist monasteries, especially in Sagaing and Magwe regions, two strongholds of anti-regime armed resistance in Myanmar’s heartland.
Based on media reports, at least 30 Buddhist monasteries in Sagaing Region and 20 in Magwe Region, which are predominantly Buddhist regions, have been destroyed, raided and looted by regime soldiers since April last year.
During clearance operations in the areas where they suspect locals of harboring resistance forces, junta troops have used heavy weapons and conducted arson attacks on monasteries, as well as destroying property and stealing valuables while quartered in the buildings.
Early this month, as many as six people died when the monastery they were sheltering in was shelled in Latpandaw Village in Sagaing Region’s Yinmabin Township.
The same township suffered the regime’s brutality in late February when soldiers raided Chin Phone Village’s monastery and detained over 80 primary schoolchildren as human shields for 36 hours.
“When the abbot of the monastery tried to negotiate with the regime forces, they pointed a gun at the monk and wouldn’t let him out of the monastery,” a villager recalled.
The regime forces turned the Buddhist monastery into an interrogation center and tortured and killed nine people including a 19-year-old woman, and stole 50 million kyats donated to the monastery by villagers.
U Waryama, a striking Buddhist monk and member of the Spring Revolution Sangha Network, said that while the regime made a lot of noise about protecting and promoting Buddhism, it never failed to show its true colors whenever its power was challenged.
“They build pagodas and monasteries to show they are the guardians of Buddhism but will not hesitate to kill monks if they pose a threat to their power,” the monk said.
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