Unknown assailants gunned down a Catholic priest, seriously injuring him as he celebrated morning Mass in Myanmar's conflict-stricken northern Kachin state on April 12.

Two men opened fire at 6:30 a.m. on Father Paul Khwi Shane Aung, 40, parish priest of St. Patrick's Church in Mohnyin town, within the Myitkyina Diocese, according to church sources.

"They were wearing black clothes and masks and entered the church on a motorcycle to shoot the priest three times," U Zaw, a local catechist, told UCA News.

The motive behind the attack is not yet known.

Zaw said the injured priest was rushed to a Mohnyin hospital and was later moved to a hospital in Myitkyina, the state capital.

The attack came nearly a month after the Rev. Nammye Hkun Jaw Li, a 47-year-old pastor with the Kachin Baptist Convention, was shot dead at his computer shop in Mogaung township on March 18.

The killers are still at large.

An activist based in Kachin state said anti-social elements are fomenting religious and ethnic conflict as the civil war in military-ruled Myanmar has entered a critical phase.

The Kachin Independence Army, an ethnic rebel group, has seized several key military bases and outposts since it started an offensive March 3.

Lwalje, a key trading town near China's border, is currently under the control of the KIA.

"We need to be vigilant. The (shooting) incidents show warning signs," the activist said April 12.

Clergy, pastors and church-run institutions are being targeted by the military, which toppled the civilian government in February 2021, for supporting the rebels.

The Rev. Hkalam Samson, a prominent KBC pastor, was arrested on Dec. 4, 2022, for his alleged links with the KIA. He was sentenced to six years on April 7, 2023.

Kachin state's 1.7 million people are mainly Christians, some 116,000 of whom are Catholics.