YANGON, Myanmar (CNS) -- Soldiers in Myanmar used a Catholic church as a kitchen and laid mines around the building, church sources told ucanews.com.
A video posted by local defense forces showed dirty floors and pews covered with dust along with cooking pots and military uniforms inside Mother of God Church in Mobye, in Shan state. The video went viral on social media.
Ucanews.com reported local defense forces urged parishioners not to go near the church building because the army had laid mines near it.
The military occupied the town for several days before retreating from the church in mid-September following casualties in fierce fighting with local defense forces, ucanews.com reported. Mobye, where the majority of people are Catholic, is part of the Pekhon Diocese.
Myanmar's military has continued to target churches and Christian institutions in the conflict-stricken country where the religious minority bears the brunt of the conflict triggered by the February 2021 coup, ucanews.com reported.
Fierce fighting erupted between the military and local defense forces around Mobye township in early September, when the military used airstrikes and heavy weapons after dozens of soldiers were killed.
Reports said more than 5,000 people fled their homes due to the fighting, in which more than 100 homes were destroyed by the junta's airstrikes.
Local sources said the army occupied the church to prevent attacks by local defense forces.
"Damage to the church, which is a holy place of God, is a result of being attacked by the devil," an exiled Myanmar priest said on Facebook.
"It's so sad to see and it's like destroying our hearts," a Catholic laywoman said.
Pekhon Diocese is one of the areas most affected by fighting, along with the nearby Loikaw Diocese in neighboring Kayah state.
Church sources told ucanews.com that at least six parishes in the Pekhon Diocese have been abandoned, while churches, including Sacred Heart Cathedral, have been repeatedly attacked and damaged due to the ongoing conflict.
More than 150,000 civilians, including Catholics in Kayah and Shan states, have been forced to seek refuge in churches, makeshift camps and in the jungle while the military has been targeting priests and pastors, bombing and vandalizing churches in predominantly Christian Kayah, Chin and Kachin states, ucanews.com reported.
At a U.N. Human Rights Council session Sept. 12, Nicholas Koumjian, head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, said: "Since the military coup in February last year, there is increasing evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes, including murder, torture, deportation and forcible transfer, persecution, imprisonment and the targeting of the civilian population.
"Perpetrators of the most serious international crimes committed in Myanmar must know that we are united in our efforts to break the cycle of impunity and to ensure that those responsible for such crimes will face justice," he said.