Myanmar’s ruling military burned alive at least 35 internally displaced people, including elders, women and children, in a village in eastern Kayah State on Christmas Eve, according to human rights groups.
The Karenni Human Rights Group said it discovered the victims’ bodies on Saturday, the day after the massacre near the Mo So village of Hpruso town.
“We were so shocked at seeing that all the dead bodies were different sizes, including children, women and old people,” a commander from the Karenni National Defense Force, one of the largest of several civilian militias opposing the junta that led to a Feb. 1 coup, told Reuters.
“I went to see this morning. I saw dead bodies that had been burned, and also the clothes of children and women spread around,” a local villager was quoted as saying.
The international aid group Save the Children said two of its staffers were missing in that massacre, adding that it was suspending operations in that region in Myanmar, previously known as Burma, NPR reported.
The military, also known as Tatmadaw, admitted it shot and killed an unspecified number of “terrorists with weapons” from the KNDF in the village, adding that the people were in seven vehicles and did not stop for the military, Reuters added.
The presence of the Buddhist nationalist military makes civilians and militias in conflict-ridden states nervous. The military has been accused of damaging places of worship and civilians’ homes, raping girls and women, abducting civilians to be used for forced labor and executing civilians.
Myanmar’s ethnic minorities, including Christians, live in the various conflict zones across the country’s borders with Thailand, China and India. Hundreds of thousands of civilians, many of them Christians, have been displaced due to the escalation of conflicts in the zones since the military coup on Feb. 1.
Militias in those areas have been supporting pro-democracy protesters since the coup, which has led to the use of heavy weapons by the Myanmar army. Thousands of civilians in the conflict zones have sought shelter in churches when their villages are under attack.
“Today the 25th of December, Christmas Day, is an important day of celebration and peace for the world. However, today the genocidal junta made their choice to say clearly that peace is…,” tweeted Dr. Sasa, who is Union Minister of the Ministry of International Cooperation, Spokesperson of the National Unity Government of Myanmar and the Myanmar Special Envoy to the United Nations.
“These acts clearly constitute the worst crimes against humanity and we expect that all peoples and governments the world over should condemn these acts,” he said in a statement. “With the condemnation, however, should come a commitment that these criminals be brought to justice and held fully accountable for their actions.”
According to the KHRG, at least 651 houses, six churches and at least one clinic in Kayah state, also known as Karenni, were destroyed between May 21 and Dec. 20, the U.K.-based group Christian Solidarity Worldwide said in a statement.
From June to May, at least eight churches were damaged in 30 days in the Kayah and Shan states. According to Radio Free Asia, five civilians sheltering inside the churches were killed.
In May, four civilians were reportedly killed and around eight others were injured when security forces fired artillery shells at a Catholic church in the Kayah state.
Myanmar is ranked No. 18 on Open Doors USA’s 2021 World Watch List of 50 countries where Christians face the most severe persecution. The persecution level in Myanmar is “very high” due to Buddhist nationalism. Burma is recognized by the U.S. State Department as a “country of particular concern” for egregious violations of religious liberty.