By Stefan J. Bos, Chief International Correspondent Worthy News
(Worthy News) - Myanmar’s military has shelled a town in the country’s Christian majority state, destroying at least three churches, an orphanage, and more than 160 homes and offices, aid workers say.
Details of the October 30 attack on the town of Thantlang emerged Tuesday as the area was reportedly largely evacuated after previous attacks and threats from the military.
No casualties were immediately reported, but there were fears for the safety of 20 children and their teachers trapped in an orphanage, said the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO).
Buildings belonging to the Presbyterian Church, the Church on the Rock, and Thantlang Baptist Church were among those damaged by fire caused by artillery attacks, Christians said.
In addition, the offices of CHRO and the aid group Save, the Children were reportedly destroyed.
Christians told Worthy News that the attack by Myanmar’s Buddhist-led army was the latest in at least 20 cases in which the military government “deliberately targeted Christians.” Devoted Christians are among those seen as a threat to the power base of the junta in this mainly Buddhist nation, Worthy News established.
Among those singled out by troops are pastors, church leaders, and other believers, while church buildings and other Christian sites are destroyed, according to several sources.
Worthy News obtained footage of fires caused by artillery attacks by the army, also known as Tatmadaw, which spread across the small town of Thantlang.
CHRO deputy director Salai Za Uk Ling warned in published remarks that any military necessity does not justify the “extensive destruction of civilian property, carried out.”
The official called the attacks “represent war crimes and grave breaches of international humanitarian law.”
Earlier, Ned Price, a spokesman for the US State Department, reflected those concerns about the violence in Myanmar, also known as Burma. “These abhorrent attacks underscore the urgent need for the international community to hold the Burmese military accountable. And
take action to prevent gross violations and abuses of human rights, including preventing the transfer of arms to the military,” Price added.
Christian groups day ongoing attacks against the ethnic minority Christians in Buddhist-majority Myanmar only increased since the February 2021 military coup.
“The coup has affected our ability to safely and freely worship,” said a pastor from the Chin Baptist Convention in published remarks. “People worry that they will be attacked or bombed while they are praying.”
In September, 31-year-old Pastor Cung Biak Hum was shot and killed in Thantlang while putting out a fire caused by Tatmadaw artillery. “Soldiers then hacked off Pastor Cung’s finger to steal his wedding ring,” recalled aid group, Barnabas Fund.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews said, “The murder of a Baptist minister and bombing of homes in Thantlang, Chin State are the latest examples of the living hell being delivered daily by junta forces against the people of Myanmar.”
This atrocity came as part of what local
Christians and rights activists view it as “a concerted anti-Christian campaign in Chin State.”
That included the desecration of church buildings and airstrikes against Christian villages and camps of refuge for internally-displaced persons, aid workers say.
The ongoing violence in Chin State has reportedly displaced thousands of people, with an estimated 1,800 fleeing across the Indian border to seek refuge in the state of Mizoram.
Christian charity Barnabas Fund said that the “same anti-Christian atrocities” occur in other parts of Myanmar as well.
Targeted areas include the Christian-majority Kachin and Karen (also known as Kayin) states and Kayah State, which has a large Christian ethnic-Karenni population, aid workers say.
In late March, two months after the military coup, the Tatmadaw launched airstrikes against Karen Christian villages, killing at least three and injuring eight, Christians said.
The violence forced some 3,000 people from the region to flee across the border into Thailand, according to aid workers in the area.
“These attacks continued throughout the summer, including the shelling of villages in Kachin State,” Barnabas Fund told Worthy News. The charity stressed that another “military assault on a church in Kayah State” left four dead and eight injured.
“Churches are now empty and deserted,” said an unidentified Kayah church leader in remarks shared with Worthy News. “Fear is instilled in the hearts of people. Even churches are not safe from attacks.”
Soldiers, he added, confiscated the food and medical supplies that Kayah churches collected to distribute among “the many Christians forced from their homes by the ongoing violence.”
Christians also confirmed that in Christian areas, humanitarian workers are regularly stopped at checkpoints or detained.
More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee from Kayah and southern Shan State since the Tatmadaw offensive intensified in May.
More than 1,000 people have died in attacks by the military since the February 1 coup ousted elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, said the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP).
The military disputes these figures.
Amid the turmoil, Barnabas Fund said it collects food and hygienic packages as well as other aid for displaced Christian families.