The Myanmar military shelled the town of Thantlang, Chin State, on 30 October, causing fires that destroyed or damaged more than 160 homes and three church buildings.
The town had already been largely evacuated owing to the threat from the military (also known as the Tatmadaw) to civilians in Christian-majority Chin State, including earlier artillery strikes against Thantlang.
This latest attack is one of at least 20 cases documented by human rights groups and media outlets in which Myanmar’s military government has deliberately targeted Christians, pastors and church leaders, church buildings and other Christian sites.
While no casualties were reported in Thatlang, there are fears for the safety of 20 children and their teachers trapped in an orphanage, according to the Chin Human Rights Organisation (CHRO).
Buildings belonging to the Presbyterian Church, the Church on the Rock and Thantlang Baptist Church were among those damaged by the fire.
CHRO deputy director Salai Za Uk Ling said, “The extensive destruction of civilian property, carried out wantonly and not justified by any military necessity, represent war crimes and grave breaches of international humanitarian law.”
On Sunday 31 October Ned Price, a spokesman for the US State Department, said, “These abhorrent attacks underscore the urgent need for the international community to hold the Burmese military accountable and take action to prevent gross violations and abuses of human rights, including preventing the transfer of arms to the military.”
Christians violently and brutally targeted
Ethnic-minority Christians have suffered persecution and violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar for many years, and this has only increased since the February 2021 military coup.
“The coup has affected our ability to safely and freely worship,” said a pastor from the Chin Baptist Convention. “People worry that they will be attacked or bombed while they are praying.”
In September 31-year-old Pastor Cung Biak Hum was shot and killed in Thantlang while trying to put out a fire caused by Tatmadaw artillery. Soldiers then hacked off Pastor Cung’s finger in order to steal his wedding ring.
UN Special Rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews said, “The murder of a Baptist minister and bombing of homes in Thantlang, Chin State are the latest examples of the living hell being delivered daily by junta forces against the people of Myanmar.”
This atrocity came as part of a concerted anti-Christian campaign in Chin State, including the desecration of church buildings and airstrikes against Christian villages and camps of refuge for internally-displaced persons (IDPs).
The ongoing violence in Chin State has displaced thousands of people, with an estimated 1,800 fleeing across the Indian border to seek refuge in the state of Mizoram.
Churches “empty and deserted”
The same anti-Christian atrocities occur in other parts of Myanmar, including Christian-majority Kachin and Karen (also known as Kayin) states and Kayah State, which also has a large Christian presence, mainly among the ethnic-Karenni population.
In late March, just two months after the military coup, the Tatmadaw launched airstrikes against Karen Christian villages, killing at least three, injuring eight and forcing around 3,000 to flee across the border into Thailand.
These attacks continued throughout the summer, including the shelling of villages in Kachin State, and a military assault on a church in Kayah State that left four dead and eight injured.
“Churches are now empty and deserted,” said a Kayah church leader. “Fear is instilled in the hearts of people. Even churches are not safe from attacks.”
Soldiers, he added, have confiscated food and medical supplies, which Kayah churches have sought to provide for the many Christians forced from their homes by the ongoing violence. Others confirmed that in Christian areas humanitarian workers are regularly stopped at checkpoints or detained.
More than 100,000 people have been forced to flee from Kayah and southern Shan State since the Tatmadaw offensive intensified in May.