A column from LID 66 torched and mined the religious site after suffering casualties in clashes with area resistance forces, a KNDF spokesperson says
The military torched a Catholic church in Demoso Township, Karenni (Kayah) State, on Wednesday and laid landmines in the surrounding area before leaving, the spokesperson for a local resistance force said.
Junta forces occupied the church compound in Daw Ngay Khu in the morning, and within hours had set fire to the main worship building, the community hall and the priest’s home, according to the information officer for the Karenni Nationalities Defence Force (KNDF).
“There was a clash. They came into the village and began to set up a base in the church compound. They torched the church when they left,” he told Myanmar Now.
Since June 10, intense battles have been taking place between the military and allied Karenni resistance forces around Daw Ngay Khu, which is located along the highway connecting Demoso to the state capital of Loikaw, some 10 miles north.
The KNDF estimated that at least 10 junta soldiers were killed in the recent episodes of fighting near the village.
The junta column that suffered the casualties was the same unit that destroyed the church on Wednesday, the KNDF information officer said, noting that the troops belonged to Light Infantry Division (LID) 66 and departed for the town of Hpruso after mining the area.
“They set up landmines in the grass fields outside the church compound. We can’t tell how many there are but there are definitely more than 10 and we can’t defuse them,” he explained,
One day before the assault on the church, the troops in question also torched four homes in Daw Ngay Khu.
The military council has repeatedly denied responsibility for arson attacks on homes and religious buildings nationwide.
A member of the KNDF is seen walking past a burning building within the church compound in Daw Nyay Khu after a junta attack (KNDF)
The KNDF spokesperson described the destruction in Daw Ngay Khu as part of a larger pattern of attacks that escalated in the region in early June. Military columns from Loikaw and Hpruso have targeted at least five villages in Demoso in what he speculated was an attempt to drive out resistance forces along the north-south highway that runs through Karenni State.
“The main reason is that they want to seize control of the Demoso-Hpruso-Bawlakhe-Hpasawng road so that they can send supplies and soldiers [through the area] more easily,” the information officer said.
Since June 9, at least 22 junta soldiers have been killed in battles with guerrilla forces in Loikaw, Demoso and Hpruso townships, according to the KNDF.
Myanmar Now was unable to independently verify the number of casualties.
In May of last year, four people were killed and eight seriously injured when the military fired heavy artillery at a Catholic church near Loikaw where displaced locals were taking shelter.
Karenni religious leaders reported soon after that eight churches had been damaged or destroyed by junta bombs in Karenni and southern Shan states, challenging the military’s claims that their troops had not intentionally targeted the sites.
“There’s no way they shot these churches by mistake. For one thing, they’re on big compounds that are very easy to identify by their buildings. And we’ve set up white flags at every church,” a priest told Myanmar Now at the time.
Across the country in Thantlang, Chin State, the Baptist church—the town’s oldest building—was reportedly burned down by junta forces on June 9, one of more than 60 religious sites destroyed in the state since the February 2021 coup, according to the Chin Human Rights Organisation.