Church helps thousands flee escalating Myanmar war

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 items to homeless people in and around the state capital of Loikaw, where fighting has intensified since January 6.

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

Father Francis Soe Naing, Chancellor of the Diocese of Loikaw, said they were helping people from some parishes to leave their homes and move into the church grounds. Some had arranged to move to safer areas on their own, he added.

About 300 people took refuge in the grounds of Christ the King Cathedral in Loikaw. The church provided them with food, shelter and non-food items.

“As the situation worsens, every day we see more and more people packing and leaving town on motorbikes and cars to safer areas,” Father Soe Naing told UCA News.

Lift the blockade of those seeking to escape and allow access to those seeking to provide assistance and shelter

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

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

At least five Catholic churches in the diocese were damaged by artillery fire while a church and a Marian shrine were damaged in the neighboring diocese of Pekhon last year.

Kayah state, a remote and mountainous region, is considered a stronghold of Catholicism in the predominantly Buddhist country. About 90,000 Catholics live in the state with a population of 355,000.

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

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

Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, called on military leader Min Aung Hlaing to “immediately stop the air and ground attacks that junta forces have unleashed against Loikaw in the United States. Karenni State (Kayah) ”.

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

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