Myanmar junta troops occupy Catholic church in Moebye

Around 50 regime soldiers are currently stationed in a Catholic church in the southern Shan State town of Moebye, according to resistance forces active in the area.

The junta troops took control of the Holy Mother of God Cathedral shortly after arriving in the town early Monday morning, a battalion commander of the Moebye People’s Defence Force (PDF) told Myanmar Now.

“They specifically chose a church because they knew we wouldn’t attack them there,” he said, adding that the church, which is in the town’s Pwe Kone Ward 2, has been occupied since around 2am on Monday.

Priests, nuns and students who were in the church when the soldiers arrived were detained and not released until around 8am, he said.

A number of students were forced to lie face down on the ground with their hands tied behind their backs, he added, citing church sources.

Myanmar Now has been unable to contact any of the affected individuals for confirmation.

The PDF commander also reported a clash on Monday with another military column that was stationed inside the fire station in Moebye’s Paw Oo Ward 2.

The soldiers left the fire station early the next day, he added.

Regime forces in the area also reportedly fired heavy artillery until around 8pm, injuring one man and setting a house on fire, according to a member of a local rescue team.

“Many locals are trapped in their villages and wards. Some have fled to monasteries, but very few have actually been able to leave,” he said.

A member of another PDF group active in the area said that reinforcements have been arriving in the town to support military operations in Wari Suu Palai, a village on the road that links Moebye to Demoso in neighbouring Karenni (Kayah) State.

The PDF member complained that the soldiers have been using churches and human shields in order to deter attacks by resistance forces.

“It’s hard for us to attack them when they use civilians and religious buildings as covers,” he said.

Myanmar’s military has been accused of targeting churches in parts of the country with large Christian communities. In May of last year, it shelled a Catholic church near the Karenni State capital Loikaw, killing four and critically injuring eight. 

That action prompted Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, the archbishop of Yangon, to call on the military to spare churches from its attacks.

Despite receiving no assurance that the sanctity of religious buildings would be respected, however, the cardinal later controversially attended a Christmas celebration with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing.

On Christmas Eve, the day after that encounter, regime troops massacred dozens of civilians, including children and aid workers, in Karenni State’s Hpruso Township.

Earlier this year, Moebye was occupied by soldiers from Light Infantry Division 66, the unit implicated in that atrocity. The troops currently in the town are from the same division.

On Monday, the military carried out airstrikes on Mone Hla, a village in Sagaing Region’s Khin-U Township that is also the birthplace of Cardinal Bo.

Myanmar Now has attempted to reach the cardinal for comment, but so far all calls have gone unanswered.

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