Junta soldiers and pro-military Pyu Saw Htee militia have torched a Sagaing region village for the fourth time, burning down its 129-year-old Catholic church, residents told RFA.
On Saturday, more than 150 troops entered Chan Thar village in Ye-U township, setting up camp in the Assumption Church.
The following day, the soldiers burned down the church and adjacent buildings, home to the church’s priests and nuns, according to local Christians.
The junta has carried out four arson attacks on Chan Thar since last May and fewer than 20 of the village’s near-600 houses remain after Sunday’s attack, according to a local who was helping to clear up debris at the church.
“They started to torch the furniture and pillars inside the building first. Only the outside brick structure remains. The roof and bells were destroyed,” said the local, who did not wish to be named for safety reasons.
“There was a building for the sisters as it was a Christian church. That building was also completely destroyed.”
Troops burned down 24 houses in the first raid last May, he said. Another 131 were torched in June and 158 homes were destroyed in December.
Residents told RFA nearly 3,000 people lost their homes in the arson attacks.
One local Christian said the junta should not allow its troops to camp in religious buildings or destroy them.
“These are places where religion is supreme. It is only one year before the church turns 130 years old. This should not happen to the buildings of priests and nuns. They should always live in these buildings,” the local said.
Residents said a battalion from Sagaing region’s Mawlaik township and one from Yangon region’s Hmawbi township carried out the latest attack but RFA has not been able to confirm this.
Calls to Sagaing region’s junta spokesman and social affairs minister Aye Hlaing went unanswered.
Junta Deputy Information Minister Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun previously claimed the military does not burn down civilian buildings, blaming anti-junta People’s Defense Forces.
Myint Htwe, former regional lawmaker for the National League for Democracy, which led the government ousted in the February 2021 coup, told RFA destroying religious buildings is a war crime.
“I accept fighting to the death in battle as it is war. We also understand it is the nature of the military to cut off main supply routes. But destroying religious buildings has no place in the civilized and humane armies of various countries around the world,” he said.
Last November three locals were killed when troops attacked Khin-U township’s Mon Hla village and set fire to the houses. After the attack Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of the Catholic Episcopal Church of Myanmar, told RFA Burmese he was deeply saddened by the raid on his home village.
The junta stepped up its scorched-earth operations in Ye-U township at the start of December, destroying 2,131 houses in 21 villages, according to locals.
Many of the residents of Khin-U township are descendants of Portuguese Christians known as the Bayingyi, who live alongside local Buddhists. Bayingyi have been living there since the beginning of the 17th century.
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