Myanmar army units in Chin State destroyed two churches and nearly 30 homes in three villages while travelling along the Falam-Hakha road over the past week, leaving them empty of residents, according to multiple local sources.
A convoy of two armoured vehicles and more than 35 trucks carrying junta troops left Falam for Hakha on October 13 and has since been occupying villages along the road connecting the two townships. The soldiers have been setting fire to the communities as they depart, locals told Myanmar Now.
The villages of Rialti, Thlanrawn and Taal—have reportedly seen their entire populations forced from their homes by the military’s assaults. In total, more than 1,000 people have been displaced throughout Falam Township, additionally from Lungpi, Tlangzawl and other surrounding communities.
According to villagers’ accounts, on October 13, junta troops destroyed the 10-household village of Rialti, including its church. The following day they did the same to the 12 homes in Thlanrawn, and set fire to the village’s church four days later, on Monday.
“They tried to burn the church but it wouldn’t catch fire, but they destroyed the chairs, pulpit and curtains inside,” a Thlanrawn villager told Myanmar Now on the condition of anonymity. “Locals had to flee as the military was terrorising them with both heavy and light weapons. They still do not dare to come back.”
Three homes in Taal were reportedly torched on Tuesday.
As of Tuesday night, the military convoy in question was occupying the Baptist and Assembly of God churches in Ramthlo village in Falam Township, 22 miles from Hakha, locals said.
The Institute of Chin Affairs released a statement on September 29 condemning the military’s desecration of ethnic Chin churches.
“The stage for the pulpit is a sacred place in the church. We don’t even allow people to wear shoes on it,” a Chin pastor from Falam Township said. “They’re just breaking into the churches as they please. It’s an insult to the religion.”
The Chin National Front and the Chin National Defence Force (CNDF) have intercepted and attacked the military convoy travelling from Kalay in Sagaing Region to Falam on multiple occasions since early October.
A CNDF spokesperson claimed that their forces managed to destroy half of the vehicles in the convoy between Falam and Hakha and that at least four junta soldiers were killed in the ambushes.
“We had no deaths on our side. Battles have been ongoing. The armoured vehicles were shooting at us from the football field in Ramthlo village just this morning,” the CNDF spokesperson told Myanmar Now on Wednesday.
The military has been sending reinforcement convoys accompanied by armoured vehicles towards the Chin State townships of Mindat, Matupi and Hakha since early October.
An October 15 report by the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO) claimed that throughout August and September around 100 buildings had been destroyed by the military in Sagaing and Magway regions and 100 more in Chin State. Among them were seven churches and a monastery, according to CHRO.
Junta artillery fire on the Chin State town of Thantlang on September 18 destroyed several homes, and the military torched several more. Soldiers also shot dead Cum Biak Hum, local pastor, and cut off his finger to take his wedding ring.
When the news of the pastor’s killing spread online, junta information officer Gen Zaw Min Tun said on September 21 that he had been hit by a stray bullet and that the military was “looking into” his death.
A report published in military-run media on September 26 suggested that members of the local anti-junta People’s Defence Force had taken the pastor’s ring and watch.
Thousands of people fled Thantlang after the fighting on September 18, taking shelter in nearby villages along the India-Myanmar border, and others crossing into India’s Mizoram state.
The military council’s information team has not answered calls from Myanmar Now inquiring about the ongoing violence nor have they released any statements on the situation in Chin State.