Myanmar’s Roman Catholic leader called for an end to attacks on places of worship after saying four people died and more than eight were injured when a group of women and children sought refuge in a church during this week’s fighting. .
Conflict between the army and forces opposed to military rule has intensified in recent days in eastern Myanmar, near the border between Shan and Kayah states, with dozens of security forces and local fighters killed, residents and reports said of the media.
Thousands of civilians have also fled their homes as a result of the fighting and have also suffered casualties.
“It is with immense pain and grief, we record our anguish over the attack on innocent civilians, who sought refuge in the Sacred Heart Church, in Kayanthayar,” Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon. .
The church in Loikaw district, the capital of Kayah state on the border with Thailand, suffered extensive damage in the attack on Sunday night, Bo said.
Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist, but some areas including Kayah have large Christian communities.
“Violent acts, including continuous bombing, the use of heavy weapons on a frightened group of women and children,” resulted in casualties, she said.
“This has to stop. We all … kindly ask you not to escalate the war, “he said.
Bo said churches, hospitals and schools were protected during the conflict by international conventions.
He said the attack prompted people to flee to the jungle with more than 20,000 displaced people in urgent need of food, medicine and hygiene.
Another resident in the area trying to help displaced people estimated Wednesday that the number of those who had fled their homes had now risen to between 30,000 and 50,000 and were still using churches for shelter.
“The elders and the children are in the churches. All the churches have raised white flags to stop the bombing, ”said the 20-year-old, who asked not to be identified.
He said the situation remained tense in the area and accused the military of continuing to use heavy weapons against lightly armed local militias.
A spokesman for the junta did not respond to phone calls seeking comment.
Myanmar has been in chaos since the army took power on February 1 and ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, with daily protests, marches and nationwide strikes against the junta, which has struggled to impose the order as opposition against it grew.
He responded with lethal force, killing more than 800 people, according to the activist group of the Association of Assistance for Political Prisoners. The military is contesting this figure, and coup leader Min Aung Hlaing recently said around 300 people were killed in the riots, including 47 policemen.
The military is also fighting on an increasing number of fronts, against well-established ethnic minority armies and disorganized local militias that have formed in recent weeks, many armed with rudimentary rifles and homemade weapons.
Min Aung Hlaing downplayed the risk of the violence turning into a bigger conflict.
“I don’t think there will be a civil war,” Hong Kong-based Phoenix Television Phoenix told Chinese-language broadcaster in a May 20 interview.