Displaced civilians take refuge in Myanmar churches

The Catholic faithful in the Diocese of Pathein in Myanmar gather on Monday, April 12, to offer prayers for peace and for those who died in the ongoing conflict in the country. (Photo supplied)

The Church’s social arm Karuna (Caritas) Myanmar has stepped in to provide humanitarian aid as thousands of civilians have been displaced as a result of intense fighting in Myanmar’s Kachin state.

Renewed fighting has intensified between the military and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) in Momauk township in the northern state since late April with the military deploying fighter jets and heavy artillery.

Over 5,000 people were forced to flee their homes and take refuge at churches and monasteries, according to church officials.

The majority of newly internally displaced persons (IDPs) are Shan and Bamar Buddhists while a minority are Christians.

Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw said the Church has provided shelter, food and non-food items to IDPs. It has collected donations from parishes and used Lenten funds for the humanitarian response.

“The situation remains tense as gunfire is still heard in Mansi township, although there has been a lull in intense fighting in Momauk township for three days,” the prelate told UCA News.

The villagers risk their lives to go back to their homes as it is an important time for farming and they will need to start growing rice next month

The bishop, who is also the head of Caritas Myanmar, said men and women recently returned to their villages to do farming while the elderly and children remain in the churches and monasteries.

“The villagers risk their lives to go back to their homes as it is an important time for farming and they will need to start growing rice next month,” he said.

In Kachin state, both sides have used mortar shelling, according to a report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on April 27.

More than 100,000 people remain at various IDP camps in Kachin and Shan states due to renewed conflict since June 2011. 

Kachin state, a predominantly Christian region, is home to about 116,000 Catholics among a population of 1.7 million.

The military has also been fighting Karen guerrillas in southeastern Myanmar since March. Its airstrikes have caused over 40,000 people to flee into the jungle, while more than 3,000 have crossed the border into Thailand.

Since January, fighting has been raging in Shan state between the military and ethnic armed groups that has led to over 12,280 people being displaced, although half of them have returned to their places of origin, according to a UN report on May 11.

Kachin and Karen guerrillas who have supported anti-coup protests have engaged in intense conflict with the military since March.

Over 10,000 refugees have fled Myanmar since February due to violence and the deteriorating situation following the Feb. 1 coup, according to the UNHCR.

Daily anti-coup protests continue despite a bloody crackdown by security forces which has claimed at least 782 lives. Countless more have been wounded and over 3,700 people are in detention, including many in situations that may amount to enforced disappearances, according to the UN.

The UN rights office said on May 11 that in the 100 days since the military seized power, the brutal repression of protesters has continued despite international efforts to end the violence. - UCA News