Monasteries and churches not spared by conflict in Myanmar — Radio Free Asia

Nearly 100 religious buildings have been destroyed in two regions and two states of Myanmar more than a year after the military seized control of the elected government and plunged the Southeast Asian country into chaos and violence , according to data compiled by RFA.

The 97 religious buildings that have been demolished since the Feb. 1 coup include 15 Buddhist monasteries in Sagaing region, five Buddhist monasteries and one Christian church in Magway region, 62 Christian churches in Chin state and 13 Christian churches and one mosque in Kayah State. .

In some cases, soldiers attacked religious buildings and beat residents who had taken refuge there.

Residents of Sagaing region in northwestern Myanmar said several Buddhist monasteries and Christian churches in Ye-U, Mingin, Yinmarbin and Khin-U were burned down, while other monasteries were destroyed in Ye-U, Tanze, Kalay, Myaung, Pale and Ayadaw townships.

Zaw Zaw, a resident of Pale township, said Buddhist monks there were fed by locals offering alms after military troops raided villages and robbed and burned down their monasteries.

“They swore against the Buddhist monasteries [and] fired several shots in the air,” he said. “They seized the cell phones of the monks at gunpoint. They also robbed the civilians who had taken refuge in the monasteries of their silver, gold and jewelry.

Whenever a military detachment entered the village of Zaw Zaw, the locals stayed behind closed doors and did not come to the monastery to offer alms to the monks, he said.

“Even Buddhist monks are on the run,” Zaw Zaw added.

Other civilians told RFA they were appalled to see bullet holes and other damage from bomb blasts on Buddhist pagodas that serve as landmarks in many small communities.

Residents used to take refuge in monasteries when military units arrived in their villages, but now those places are no longer safe, they said.

Soldiers no longer honor religious buildings in the Buddhist-majority nation because they only want to make sure they maintain power, said a member of the People’s Defense Forces (PDF) from Yesagyo township in the Magway area who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons.

“It’s a fascist and terrorist army,” he said. “They don’t worship religion anymore. They don’t care about people’s welfare. They don’t care about anything else. All they care about is maintaining their power and increasing their wealth.

“They also chase and assault people,” the PDF member said. “They will do the same to sacred buildings of any religion. They will not hesitate to destroy at any time.

Dawuku Catholic Church in Loikaw Township, Myanmar’s eastern Kayah State, seen in January 2022, was damaged by artillery fire from a military junta plane. Credit: Citizen Journalist

“Horrible Deeds”

The predominantly Christian Chin state in western Myanmar has seen 62 religious structures destroyed – the highest number of such structures since the military takeover – of which 22 were burned to the ground and another 20 destroyed by explosions artillery, according to the Institute. of Chin Affairs, a human rights organization.

“We believe this is the result of a lack of respect for people with different religious beliefs,” the organization said in a March 22 statement. “Many of us feel like they treated us this way because they disrespect people with different religious beliefs. Losing mutual respect for other religions is not acceptable, and attacking believers of different religions is a violation of international laws.

Reverend Dennis Ngun Thang Mang said some of the destroyed churches were on fire although there were no armed conflicts in their vicinity, and when he and others questioned the army about the fires, they said said they didn’t know.

In addition, the military forces arrested 20 Christian ministers. While a dozen captives were later released, four remain in custody and four were killed, the Chin Affairs Institute said.

In Loikaw, Demoso and Hpruso townships of Kayah State, three Baptist churches, 10 Catholic churches and one mosque were destroyed.

St. Joseph Catholic Church in Demoso Township, Kayah State was damaged by artillery and small arms fire on May 26, 2021, despite appeals a day earlier from Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of the Catholic Church in Myanmar, for troops to refrain from attacking religious buildings in the country.  Credit: Karenni People's Defense Force
St. Joseph Catholic Church in Demoso Township, Kayah State was damaged by artillery and small arms fire on May 26, 2021, despite appeals a day earlier from Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of the Catholic Church in Myanmar, for troops to refrain from attacking religious buildings in the country. Credit: Karenni People’s Defense Force

Military commanders are expected to avoid hitting religious buildings during armed conflict, said a Christian religious leader in Loikaw, who requested anonymity for security reasons.

“During the armed conflicts in Kayah state, most of the bombs from air raids and artillery blasts fell inside the compound of churches,” he told RFA. “That’s why many churches were destroyed.

“We don’t know why they did it,” he said. “We strongly condemn their actions. We want to call on them to avoid targeting religious buildings.

The military regime’s spokesman, Major General Zaw Min Tun, denied that the armed forces had targeted religious buildings during the armed conflicts.

“The Tatmadaw never targeted any religious building,” he said, using the Burmese name for the Myanmar military. “There were raids on them when we received credible information that terrorists were hiding in the buildings.”

In cases where monasteries and churches have been accidentally hit by military fire, soldiers have taken the initiative to help repair them, Zaw Min Tun said.

Aung Myo Min, minister for human rights in the shadow government of national unity, said the UN Geneva Convention sets out guidelines to protect religious buildings in times of armed conflict.

“Religious buildings and sacred places are icons of religious freedom,” he told RFA. “They should not be assaulted or destroyed, even by societal standards. But targeting religious buildings in armed conflicts and shooting at them with weapons are horrific acts. »

Reported by Myanmar Service of RFA. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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