Church Helps Civilians Fleeing War in Myanmar

UN special rapporteur calls for an immediate halt to military strikes in Catholic stronghold of Kayah state.

By UCA News Reporter, UCA News

The Catholic Church is helping evacuate and shelter thousands of people fleeing their homes in conflict-torn Kayah state in eastern Myanmar.

It is also providing food and non-food supplies to those rendered homeless in and around the state capital Loikaw, where fighting has escalated since Jan. 6.

Myanmar’s military has continued airstrikes and artillery shelling even after two-thirds of the town’s population of around 50,000 people fled their homes, according to local aid groups.

Father Francis Soe Naing, chancellor of Loikaw Diocese in Myanmar, said they were helping people from some parishes to move from their homes into the church compound. There were some who had arranged to move to safer areas by themselves, he added.

Around 300 people have taken refuge inside the Christ the King Cathedral compound in Loikaw. The church was providing them food, shelter and non-food items.

“As the situation is getting worse, each day we are seeing more and more people pack their belongings and leave the town on motorcycles and in cars to safer areas,” Father Soe Naing told UCA News.

“Lift the blockade of those seeking to escape and allow access for those seeking to provide aid and shelter”

The priest said they intend to stay put and help people escape the worsening situation in the state capital. Some parishes in the vicinity of Loikaw had been abandoned as clergy, nuns and parishioners fled following intense fighting since last week.

At least 15 parishes in Loikaw Diocese have been severely affected by the ongoing conflict, displacing more than 100,000 people, including Catholics.

At least five Catholic churches in the diocese have been damaged by artillery shelling while a church and Marian shrine were damaged in neighboring Pekhon Diocese last year.

Kayah state, a remote and mountainous region, is regarded as a stronghold of Catholicism in the Buddhist-majority country  of Myanmar. About 90,000 Catholics live in the state with a population of 355,000.

The region bordering Thailand was relatively peaceful for decades but has seen intense fighting since May 2021.

Some 35 civilians including women, children and two aid workers from Save the Children were killed by junta troops and their bodies set on fire in Mo So village, Hpruso township, on Dec. 24.

Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has called on military ruler Min Aung Hlaing to “immediately halt the air and ground attacks that junta forces have unleashed on Loikaw, Karenni (Kayah) state.”

“Lift the blockade of those seeking to escape and allow access for those seeking to provide aid and shelter,” he said in a message on Twitter on Jan. 10.

Featured image: People fleeing conflict zones seek refuge in a jungle area as fighting between the military and rebel forces continues in Kayah state, Myanmar. (Photo: AFP)

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The Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) is a ministry that provides news, features and multimedia content on social, political and religious developments of interest to the Catholic Church in Asia. www.ucanews.com