Burma (Myanmar)’s cardinal has spoken out about the civilian deaths which occurred when government troops shelled a Catholic church where hundreds were seeking sanctuary.

In a letter received by Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, Archbishop of Yangon (Rangoon), condemned Monday’s (24th May) attack on the Sacred Heart Church, Kayanthayar, south-east Burma.

Cardinal Bo said: “It is with immense sorrow and pain, we record our anguish at the attack on innocent civilians, who sought refuge in Sacred Heart Church…

“The violent acts, including continuous shelling, using heavy weaponry on a frightened group of largely women and children, resulted in tragic death of four people and wounding more than eight.”

According to reports, more than 300 people sought refuge in the church after soldiers attacked the village looking for members of groups opposed to February’s military coup.

The cardinal said: “The church suffered extensive damage, bearing witness to the intensity of attack on a place of worship.”

The Sacred Heart Cathedral in Pekhon in neighbouring Shan State, was also damaged by artillery shells the previous day (Pentecost Sunday, 23rd May).

The cardinal stressed that, as churches, hospitals and schools “are protected during conflict through the Hague conventions”, the mortar attack constitutes a human rights abuse by the Burmese military junta.

He added: “Apart from all Protocols, let us remember the blood that is spilled is not some enemy’s blood.

“Those who died and those who were wounded are the citizens of this country.”

Cardinal Bo also expressed concern for those who left Kayanthayar to escape the fighting.

He said: “The midnight attack made the hapless people flee to the jungle. Their fate is still not known to the outside world.

“Food, medicine and hygiene are urgent needs but there is no way of reaching them. There are many children and old people among them, forced to starve and without any medical aid.

“This is a great humanitarian tragedy.”

In conclusion, Cardinal Bo appealed for an end to the fighting: “Conflict is a cruel anomaly at this moment. Peace is possible – peace is the only way.”