A Catholic cathedral in the Diocese of Phekhone in Myanmar’s Shan state was among several structures that were reportedly hit by military artillery fire on Nov. 9 amid continuing armed clashes between government and rebel forces.
An unnamed source quoted by the news site Radio Veritas Asia said that at least five artillery shells “fell on the church,” which was identified in the report as the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.
“Small arms and light weapons were fired” but “there was nobody in the city,” the source was quoted as saying. The report said the bishop’s car and an ambulance were also hit.
The report said this week’s artillery attack was the third since the Myanmar military known as Tatmadaw took power in a coup on Feb. 1.
A Catholic priest who identified himself as Father Hla El confirmed the report for Radio Veritas Asia, saying that several unexploded shells were found in the church the next day.
The priest said the cathedral was built in 2012 and was dedicated only in 2017 but is not yet finished.
A report in the Italian news agency Fides also said “rockets and heavy weapon bullets” fired by junta troops hit the cathedral.
The report quoted Father Julio Oo of the Diocese of Pekhon who condemned the incident, saying that the church complex has been serving as “a place of refuge” for people affected by the conflict.
“Hundreds of local people are taking refuge in the Cathedral complex,” said the priest.
He said the “acts of gratuitous violence against civilians and places of worship” only fueled anger especially among young people in the region who have been joining the rebel militia.
Oo expressed concern over what he described as the increasing incidents of attacks on churches and places of worship.
“Churches are becoming more and more targets of attacks for military forces,” he said.
The Fides report, quoting local sources in the Christian community, said the government soldiers are targeting churches “to destroy the hope of the people.”
The Diocese of Pekhon is estimated to have about 340,000 inhabitants with about 55,000 Catholics, many of whom belong to indigenous peoples tribes.
The UN Security Council this week has expressed “deep concern” over the situation in Myanmar and called for “immediate cessation of violence.”
A report on Radio Free Asia said military operations in the southeast Asian country’s southern Shan state and Sagaing region have forced nearly 40,000 people to flee their homes in the past two days.
The report said soldiers have been setting buildings on fire under the pretext of fighting terrorism because the villages in the region are reportedly centers of resistance to the military regime.
The same report said the military has acknowledged that it had raided several villages in Western Depayin township beginning on Monday evening.
Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, a spokesman of the military junta, however dismissed the reports of attacks on civilian targets and burning of structures as “allegations.”
The military official told RFA that the military “has no reason to burn villages.”
“We are working to secure the area in Sagaing region, but we didn’t set any villages on fire — there’s no reason to do that,” he said.