Myanmar’s military has arrested seven workers from the Catholic Church's social arm Caritas (Karuna) who were on a mission to provide aid for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in conflict-stricken Kayah state.
A senior official from Loikaw Diocese that covers Kayah state said the soldiers made the arrests in Loikaw, the state’s capital, as the social workers carried food and medicines on Oct. 18.
“We have been providing humanitarian assistance for the IDPs who are in dire need of food, shelter and medicines amid tight restrictions on providing aid,” the source told UCA News.
He said church officials have been closely following up on the arrest of the charity workers and trying to gain their release.
It’s not uncommon in the region for the military to burn civilians’ homes, kill civilians and make arbitrary arrests in the predominantly Christian region, according to church sources.
The Church has played a major role in providing humanitarian assistance to IDPs who have taken refuge in churches, convents and makeshift camps since fighting flared up in May.
At least 10 parishes in Loikaw Diocese have been affected by the recent conflict that has displaced more than 100,000 people, including Catholics. The diocese is responding to the needs of around 70,000 IDPs.
Providing aid remains difficult due to tight restrictions, road blockages and checkpoints by the military, according to aid workers.
The number of IDPs has increased recently following intense fighting between the military and the combined forces of the Karenni Army and local defense forces in Kayah and neighboring Shan state.
The arrests of the social workers came just seven days after Immaculate Conception Church in Phruso township, which was built four years ago, was hit by military artillery fire on Oct. 13.
Five Catholic churches have been damaged by artillery shelling in Loikaw Diocese, while a church and Marian shrine were damaged in Pekhon Diocese during a five-month period.
Kayah state, a remote and mountainous region, is regarded as a stronghold of Catholicism in the Buddhist-majority country. About 90,000 Catholics live in the state with a population of 355,000.
The rising conflict, particularly in predominantly Christian regions inhabited by the Kayah, Chin and Kachin, has resulted in churches being shelled and raided. Priests and pastors have been arrested while many unarmed civilians, including Christians, have been killed.
The latest military assault on Christians in ethnic regions is not the first time minority Christians have been attacked and targeted. Christians have borne the brunt of the decades-old civil war and faced oppression and persecution at the hands of the military which ruled for more than five decades.
The conflict sparked by the Feb. 1 coup has forced more than 240,000 people out of their homes, triggering a humanitarian crisis.