ROME, Italy – The Catholic bishops of Myanmar have urged the military to stop targeting places of worship, which have suffered repeated attacks in past weeks.
In a June 11 statement, the bishops asked that international norms of sanctuary in war times be observed, by which “churches, pagodas, monasteries, mosques, temples, including schools and hospitals, are recognized as neutral places of refuge during conflict.”
“We appeal that these places are not to be attacked and the people who seek refuge should be protected,” they said, according to a report from Vatican News.
Six churches in Myanmar have suffered attacks and destruction from the armed conflict between the military and opposition forces, with four churches in Loikaw Diocese in Kayah state coming under military artillery fire.
Thousands have reportedly sought refuge in churches and other houses of worship to escape the violence on the streets following the February 1 military coup overthrowing the country’s democratically elected leadership.
“As our country goes through her challenging times, this appeal is made on humanitarian grounds. We are not politicians, we are faith leaders, accompanying our people in their journey towards human dignity,” said the bishops of Myanmar, the former Burma.
The bishops also requested the establishment of a “humanitarian corridor” to stave off the starvation of the Burmese people, insisting that currently thousands of people, “especially the old and the children are starving in the jungles.”
“These are our citizens and they have basic right to food and safety,” the bishops said. “We plead with all to kindly allow the humanitarian corridor to reach out to the starving masses wherever they are.”
The latest statement by the bishops follows on an earlier message in which the bishops urged the military to bring an end to the violence and engage in dialogue.
“The heart-rending scenes of youth dying in the streets wound the conscience of a nation,” the bishops said. “Let not its sacred ground be soaked in fraternal blood. The sadness of parents burying their children has to stop. Mothers’ tears are never a blessing to any nation.”
Last Wednesday, the U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Thomas Andrews, warned the nation could suffer a “massive” loss of life beyond anything seen since the military seized power, as more than 100,000 people have fled their homes to escape the conflict.
“The junta’s brutal, indiscriminate attacks are threatening the lives of many thousands of men, women and children in Kayah State,” Andrews said.
“Let me blunt. Mass deaths from starvation, disease, and exposure, on a scale we have not yet seen since the February 1 coup, could occur in Kayah State absent immediate action,” he said.
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