Yangon, Burma – The Myanmar military arrested seven workers from the social branch of the Catholic Church who were on mission to provide assistance to internally displaced people in conflict-stricken Kayah State.
A senior official from the Loikaw Diocese, which covers Kayah state, said soldiers arrested Caritas (Karuna) workers in Loikaw, the state capital, as social workers carried food and medicine on October 18.
“We have provided humanitarian assistance to displaced people in urgent need of food, shelter and medicine amid strict restrictions on the delivery of aid,” the source told UCA News.
He said church officials were following the arrest of the charity workers and trying to secure their release.
It is not uncommon in the region for the military to burn civilian homes, kill civilians and make arbitrary arrests in the predominantly Christian region, according to religious sources.
The church has played a major role in providing humanitarian assistance to internally displaced people who have taken refuge in churches, convents and makeshift camps since fighting erupted in May.
At least 10 parishes in the Diocese of Loikaw have been affected by the recent conflict, which has displaced more than 100,000 people, including Catholics. The diocese is meeting the needs of around 70,000 displaced people, ucanews.com reported.
Providing aid remains difficult due to strict restrictions, roadblocks and checkpoints by the military, according to aid workers.
The number of internally displaced people has increased recently following intense fighting between the army and the combined forces of the Karenni army and local defense forces in Kayah and neighboring Shan State.
The arrests of social workers came just seven days after the Church of the Immaculate Conception in Phruso commune was hit by military artillery fire. Five Catholic churches were damaged by artillery fire in the Diocese of Loikaw, while a church and a Marian shrine were damaged in the Diocese of Pekhon for a period of five months.
Kayah, a remote and mountainous state, is considered a stronghold of Catholicism in the predominantly Buddhist country. About 90,000 Catholics live in the state with a population of 355,000.
The conflict sparked by the February 1 coup has forced more than 240,000 people from their homes, triggering a humanitarian crisis.