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Myanmar: Deadly Christmas for Karen Catholics

Photos documenting this massacre were released on the following December 28 by a local armed militia affiliated with the Karenni Nationality Defense Force (KNDF), who are fighting against the military junta in power since the coup d’état of February 1, 2021.

These opponents accuse Tatmadaw – the name used by the Burmese army – of being responsible for this barbaric act. The latter also admits the facts, arguing that it was a question of punishing “terrorists.”

However, the first accounts of the parents of the victims and a local peasant contradict Tatmadaw’s version. Two small charred bodies have already been identified, that of John, a three-year-old boy, and Agatha, a two-year-old girl, massacred in the company of their parents.

To these, we must add two Burmese workers who collaborated with the international NGO Save the Children. The justication of military reprisals against alleged terrorists hardly holds up. As the Fides agency has learned from a reliable source, the soldiers gave permission to the relatives of the victims to enter the area and recover the bodies, all of them charred.

The funeral was a simple funeral rite led by catechists, without a priest or Mass, since Tatmadaw did not even allow the local parish priest to come to the village. Most of the civilians killed belong to the Karenni – or Karen – the main ethnic group of Kayah, and are of the Catholic Faith in a country that is 90% Buddhist.

Clément, a lay Catholic present at the funeral ceremony, told Fides: “We are all sad, scared, shocked. This is real cruelty. These were innocent people fleeing the fighting. This type of attack is excruciating and inhumane. There is a total loss of conscience among the military.”

According to various sources of information cross-checked by Le Monde, the massacre took place after an hour-long fight between regime soldiers and KNDF fighters near the village of Mo So. Several dozen villagers were reportedly arrested by the soldiers who tied their hands and piled them into half a dozen vehicles which they then set on fire.

Four members of the Border Guards, who are pro-regime units, but with an ethnic component close to the rebel groups, had the courage to beg the soldiers to spare the civilians, but without success. They were executed with one bullet in the head, according to KNDF fighters.

The massacre shook the whole Church in Myanmar. Hearing the news, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Rangoon and the country’s main Catholic dignitary, spoke of a “heartbreaking and horrific atrocity,” calling for a ceasefire and the end of the civil war.

The December 24 killings also put the high prelate in a very delicate position. A few hours earlier, the Cardinal had been photographed in the company of General Min Aung Hlaing, head of the military junta, sharing a Christmas cake for the sake of dialogue in order to achieve peace.

The image was widely disseminated by the regime, in what some see as an attempt to discredit the Archbishop of Rangoon, one of the last voices of opposition to the regime to be heard.

In other parts of Myanmar, the echo of the massacre sparked a wave of emotion and solidarity. Fr. Dominic Kung, Catholic priest of the diocese of Hakha, in the west of the country, told Fides: “The blood of these slain innocents will not be shed in vain, but will be a powerful force for the people. They are now a support for our people, they will pray for our sufferings in heaven, with the Lord.”

And the priest concluded by launching an urgent appeal to the international community: “our suffering is at its limit. We are now begging for help from God.”

No truce for the Karen ethnic group. On December 24, 2021, a few hours before the Feast of Christmas, 35 civilians, all Catholics, were burned alive in the village of Mo So, in the state of Kayah , east of Myanmar.


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