Cardinal's Christmas photos with Myanmar junta chief spark outrage

Charles Bo, the top Catholic official in Myanmar, met Min Aung Hlaing in Yangon on Thursday

Cardinal Charles Bo, Mynamar's top Catholic official, cuts a Christmas cake with armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing in Yangon. Myanmar Military Information Team / AFP
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Myanmar's top Catholic official sparked outrage on Friday after photos emerged of him cutting a Christmas cake with the country's junta chief, who has overseen a bloody crackdown on dissent and clashes in Christian-majority areas.

Cardinal Charles Bo met junta chief Min Aung Hlaing on Thursday to hear Christmas carols and "talk about peaceful and prosperous affairs," the state-backed Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

Cardinal Charles Bo attends a Christmas event with Myanmar's junta chief Min Aung Hlaing in Yangon. Myanmar Military Information Team / AFP

Mr Bo, who was ordained a cardinal by Pope Francis in 2015, later posted a photo from the meeting on his Twitter account, showing the pair smiling as they cut a Christmas cake together.

One photo published by state media showed them sitting together in front of a Christmas tree, while another showed Min Aung Hlaing handing over a donation of 20 million kyat ($11,200).

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military ousted Aung San Suu Kyi's government in February, with more than 1,300 people killed in a crackdown on dissent, according to a local monitoring group.

Anti-coup militia have sprung up across the country to fight back against the junta, with some of the bloodiest fighting happening in Christian-majority areas.

The United States said in October it was "gravely concerned" about reports that security forces had committed human rights violations and destroyed more than 100 homes as well as churches in majority-Christian Chin state.

"When Christians churches are being burned, even then he [Bo] accepts to meet him [Min Aung Hlaing]" one user posted on social media beneath a report on their meeting.

"People shouldn't go and pray where he lives."

"This doesn't represent Catholic people. Why are you cutting cakes with such a murderer?" another wrote.

Also on Friday, reports emerged of hundreds of people fleeing across a river into Thailand after Myanmar’s military unleashed air strikes and heavy artillery on Lay Kay Kaw, a small border town controlled by ethnic Karen guerrillas.

Fighting between the military and Karen fighters has intensified since the military seized power in February and the guerrillas offered refuge to opponents of the army.

The most recent clashes were triggered by a raid last week by government soldiers on Lay Kay Kaw.

Independent Myanmar media reported that government troops seized 30 to 60 people associated with the organised opposition to the military government, including at least one elected lawmaker from Ms Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.

Updated: December 24, 2021, 1:22 PM