Junta troops destroy 129-year-old church in Sagaing, Myanmar

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Junta soldiers and pro-military Pyu Saw Htee militia have set fire to a village in the Sagaing region for the fourth time, setting the 129-year-old Catholic church on fire, residents told RFA.

On Saturday, more than 150 troops entered the village of Chan Thar in Ye-U township and camped at the Assumption Church.

The next day, the soldiers burned down the church and adjacent buildings, where the church’s priests and nuns lived, according to local Christians.

The junta has committed four arson attacks on Chan Thar since last May and fewer than 20 of the village’s nearly 600 homes remain after Sunday’s attack, according to a local resident who helped clear debris near the church.

“They first started setting fire to the furniture and the pillars in the building. Only the outer brick structure remains. The roof and the bells have been destroyed,” said the resident, who declined to be named for security reasons.

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“There was a building for the sisters because it was a Christian church. That building has also been completely destroyed.”

Troops burned down 24 houses in the first attack last May, he said. Another 131 were set on fire in June and 158 houses were destroyed in December.

Residents told RFA that nearly 3,000 people lost their homes in the arson attacks.

A local Christian said the junta should not allow its troops to camp in or destroy religious buildings.

“These are places where religion reigns supreme. It is only a year before the church celebrates its 130th anniversary. This must not happen to the buildings of priests and nuns. They should always live in these buildings,” said the local resident.

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Residents said a battalion from Mawlaik township in Sagaing region and a battalion from Hmawbi township in Yangon region carried out the latest attack, but the RFA has not been able to confirm this.

Calls to Sagaing region junta spokesman and Social Affairs Minister Aye Hlaing went unanswered.

Deputy Minister of Information of the Junta, Major General Zaw Min Tun previously claimed that the military does not burn down civilian buildings, blaming the anti-junta People’s Defense Forces.

Myint Htwe, a former regional legislator for the National League for Democracy who led the government overthrown in the February 2021 coup, told RFA that vandalizing religious buildings is a war crime.

“I accept fighting to the death in battle because it is war. We also understand that it is the nature of the military to cut off key supply routes. But destroying religious buildings has no place in the civilized and humane armies of various countries around the world,” he said.

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Last November, three local residents were killed when troops attacked Mon Hla village in Khin-U commune and set fire to houses. Following the attack, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of the Catholic Episcopal Church of Myanmar, told RFA Burmese that he was deeply saddened by the raid on his native village.

The junta stepped up its scorched earth operations in Ye-U township in early December, destroying 2,131 homes in 21 villages, according to locals.

Many of the inhabitants of Khin-U municipality are descendants of Portuguese Christians known as the Bayingyi, who live alongside local Buddhists. Bayingyi has lived there since the early 17th century.

Translated by RFA Burmese. Edited by Mike Firn.

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