St. Matthew Catholic Church appears gutted by fire, allegedly set by government soldiers, in eastern Myanmar on June 15, 2022. / Screenshot from KNDF Facebook video

Loikaw, Burma, Jun 16, 2022 / 15:46 pm (CNA).

Government soldiers ransacked and burned a Catholic church in a village in eastern Myanmar Wednesday, sources told CNA.

St. Matthew Catholic Church in Dawnyaykhu in Phruso Township in Karenni State was gutted by the flames, according to video footage posted by the Karenni National Defense Force (KNDF), a local rebel group fighting the military junta that took over the country’s government on Feb. 1, 2021.

“On June 14th, the military burned down more than four houses in Dawnyaykhu village. On June 15th, the military burned down the Catholic Church in the village for no apparent reason at around 3 pm,” a KNDF official said.

The village saw heavy fighting June 10-15 between government troops and KNDF rebels.

The KNDF video purports to show government soldiers approaching the white church building as smoke and flames pour out of the windows. Gunfire can be heard in the background. The footage shows isolated fires burning in different locations inside the building. You can watch the video here.

Neither the village nor members or leaders of the church were involved in any of the local fighting, a source told CNA. The soldiers allegedly were under orders to burn down the church after occupying the building and looting valuables including food collected for the local poor.

Fire burns inside St. Matthew Catholic Church in eastern Myanmar on June 15, 2022. Government soldiers ransacked and set the church on fire, according to the KNDF rebel group. Screenshot from KNDF video

The KNDP, one of 11 ethnic armed groups currently fighting the junta, has refused to sign a nationwide cease-fire agreement.

St. Matthew’s is one of 38 parishes in the Diocese of Loikaw in eastern Myanmar. Some 16 parishes in the diocese have been abandoned by priests, nuns, and, parishioners because of intensified fighting in the area, UCA News reported. At least nine churches in the diocese have been hit by government military shelling and airstrikes, according to the report.

Some 1,900 people have died and another 1 million have been displaced under the junta’s repressive control of the country, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights told the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Tuesday.

Thousands more have been arrested, she said, and an estimated 14 million people are in urgent need of humanitarian aid.

The people of Myanmar remain “trapped in a cycle of poverty and displacement, human rights violations and abuses,” Bachelet said.

“What we are witnessing today is the systematic and widespread use of tactics against civilians, in respect of which there are reasonable grounds to believe the commission of crimes against humanity and war crimes,” she said.