The National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG), which describes itself as the country’s legitimate governing authority following a Feb. 1 coup, said that four civilians were killed and around eight others injured when the military fired a heavy artillery shell at a Catholic church in Kayan Thar Yar village in the eastern Kayah State.
The NUG said in a statement that the attack occurred at 1 a.m. on May 24. The statement was accompanied by photographs showing a church with a demolished roof and a floor covered with bloodstains, clothing, and debris.
The NUG, which was formed on April 16, said that children and elderly people were hiding in the church after fleeing their homes amid bombardment.
Vatican News reported on May 25 that all those killed and injured were Catholics.
The Asian Catholic news agency UCA News identified the church as Sacred Heart Church, near Loikaw, the capital of Kayah State. It said that more than 300 people had sought refuge there amid clashes between the military and group called the People’s Defense Force.
Benedict Rogers, a senior analyst on East Asia for the human rights group Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), lamented rising civilian deaths following a crackdown by the military, known as the Tatmadaw.
“Civilians in Myanmar have now been subjected to horrific violations at the hands of the Tatmadaw for well over 100 days,” he said.
“We extend our deepest condolences to all those who have lost loved ones in the recent attack on the Catholic church in Kayan Thar Yar and continue to call on the Tatmadaw to cease all targeting of innocent and unarmed civilians.”
He added that while the sanctions placed on the country were “welcome,” governments must do more to increase pressure on the military.
“We urge the U.K. government and like-minded allies to take the lead in implementing further sanctions against the military and their enterprises, and to coordinate the imposition of a global arms embargo,” he said.
Burma, known officially as Myanmar, is a country in Southeast Asia with a population of 54 million people. The military detained the country’s elected civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and president, Win Myint, in the early hours of Feb. 1 amid a dispute over election results.
Protests have taken place across Burma since the coup. Catholic priests and nuns have joined the protestors in the majority Buddhist country, where Christians make up around 6% of the population.
Pope Francis has repeatedly called for peace in the country, which he visited in 2017. He celebrated Mass on May 16 for Burmese Catholics in Rome, urging them not to lose hope as their homeland is engulfed by violence.
He said: “Please, do not lose hope: even today, Jesus is interceding before the Father, he stands before the Father in his prayer. He stands before him with the wounds with which he paid for our salvation. In this prayer Jesus prays for all of us, praying that the Father will keep us from the evil one and set us free from evil’s power.”