A Catholic priest in Myanmar’s Diocese of Loikaw called for an end to attacks on churches and other places of worship.
In a letter released on June 8, Father Celso Ba Shwe, apostolic administrator of Loikaw, appealed to all armed groups not to deploy troops and attack and burn down places of worship.”
The priest said thousands of displaced people who could not hide in the jungles to escape the fighting between government forces and the insurgents seek shelter in churches.
Father Ba Shwe, however, said Buddhist monasteries and Christian churches are being attacked by the military.
On Corpus Christi Sunday, June 6, the Mary Queen of Peace church in Daw Ngan Kha, Demoso town, in Kayah State, was repeatedly hit by artillery shells.
There were no casualties or injuries reported but the church suffered serious damage and several houses in the vicinity were also hit.
It was the sixth time in two weeks that Catholic churches in the region came under military attack, a local priest who asked not to be named for security reasons told LiCAS.news.
On Tuesday, Pope Francis invited believers of all faiths to set aside a minute to pray for peace, especially for Myanmar and the Holy Land.
In a tweet, the pontiff joined the call of the International Catholic Action for a “one minute for peace” prayer according to one’s own religious tradition.
“Let us pray in particular for the Holy Land and for Myanmar,” the pope posted on Twitter.
A UN human rights investigator on Wednesday warned that Myanmar’s Kayah State could suffer a “massive” loss of life beyond anything seen since the military seized power, with more than 100,000 people fleeing their homes to escape the conflict.
Myanmar’s military has been battling on multiple fronts to impose order since its February 1 coup against Aung San Suu Kyi and her elected government sparked nationwide protests.
Kayah State, which borders Thailand, is one of several regions where volunteer People’s Defense Forces have clashed with Myanmar’s well-equipped army, which has responded with artillery and air strikes, triggering an exodus into nearby forests.
“The junta’s brutal, indiscriminate attacks are threatening the lives of many thousands of men, women and children in Kayah State,” Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a statement.
“Let me blunt. Mass deaths from starvation, disease, and exposure, on a scale we have not yet seen since the February 1 coup, could occur in Kayah State absent immediate action,” he said.
An activist in Kayah State said many displaced people could not be reached including in an area east of Demoso town, about 15 km from the state capital, Loikaw.
“Some people to the east of Demoso have to survive on rice broth as we cannot deliver rice bags to them,” said the activist, who asked not to be identified. She said that military authorities had arrested three people trying to deliver aid in the last two weeks.
Power had also been cut in many areas and, along with food, materials for shelter and petrol were also desperately needed, said the activist, who also called for urgent international help.
A spokesman for the junta did not immediately respond to calls requesting comment.
Thailand, which fears a flood of refugees, has expressed its concern about the fighting in Myanmar and urged the junta to take steps agreed with other Southeast Asian countries aimed at setting a course out of the conflict.
The junta has paid little heed to demands from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to respect a “consensus” agreed in late April to end violence and hold political talks with its opponents.
A rights group says Myanmar security forces have killed at least 857 protesters since the coup, though the army disputes that figure. – with a report from Reuters