Catholic leaders say attacks on churches are deliberate

Since last month, the military has been cracking down on resistance forces in eastern Myanmar, shelling several churches, this despite an appeal by Catholic leaders to spare religious buildings. Yesterday was the second day of Aung San Suu Kyi's trial.

 


Yangon (AsiaNews) – Less than a month after launching an offensive to defeat anti-regime forces in eastern Myanmar, the military junta has wrecked at least eight churches. Christian leaders had asked soldiers to spare the places of worship, but their appeal was not heeded.

“We told them there are no armed groups hiding in our churches, just people taking shelter [from the fighting],” said a Catholic priest who took part in talks with military officers during the early stages of the conflict.

“They know that we’re housing the elderly, children and women,” he added. “This is just a planned, deliberate action.”

According to local residents, soldiers also set up camp in church compounds.

On Sunday, a group of soldiers broke into a Catholic convent in the Archdiocese of Mandalay and questioned priests for alleged links to the anti-coup movement.

After they were taken to a police station, the clergymen were questioned for almost 24 hours, one of the priests said anonymously.

On 25 May, following an attack against the Church of the Sacred Heart in Kayan Tharyar that killed four people, Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, issued a statement asking the junta not to target places of worship. Attacks on religious buildings continued, however.

On 6 June, the military shelled the Church of Mary Queen of Peace in Daw Ngan Kha, Kayah State. The regime justified the action claiming that local “terrorists” use churches to launch their offensives.

“We would never use churches as cover,” said one of resistance fighters. “We value religious buildings. Why would we use them to kill people?”

Priests can no longer stay in churches, explained Father Celso Ba Shwe. “Churches in these conflict zones aren’t safe for the displaced anymore. But we still have to make sure they're okay, so the priests can't stay there, either,” he explained.

Meanwhile, the trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of the civilian government deposed by the military in February, entered its second day, yesterday. The prosecution presented arguments that she incited public disorder, but overall she faces seven charges.

Many observers believe that the junta's goal is to prevent Suu Kyi from participating in any future elections. Her lawyers refused to disclose details of yesterday's proceedings, but noted that the 75-year-old was in better condition than on the first day when she appeared unwell.

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