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Cardinal Bo calls for 'unity, dialogue' ahead of peace talks

Myanmar military must gradually come under the authority of a democratically accountable elected president, says prelate

Cardinal Bo calls for 'unity, dialogue' ahead of peace talks

Cardinal Charles Bo says the only path to peace is through dialogue. (Photo: AFP)

Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon has called for a united and peaceful nation through dialogue as decades-long civil wars continue to rage in Myanmar.

“There is no other path than dialogue. Dialogue flows from open hearts and minds, from that passion for truth without which society disintegrates,” he said in a statement on Aug. 11.

In the union of Myanmar, economic and political federalism are now possible, he said. “We salute and thank all who lead us on this path through respectful dialogue and the persuasive power of negotiation.”

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Cardinal Bo, who is the patron of Religions for Peace-Myanmar, has elaborated on the vision of the eight martyrs including General Aung San who dreamed of “a new, united nation” after the wreckage of invasion and colonialism.

“Their vision was to build on the fertile, life-giving differences among us, and so shape a proud, united people,” the cardinal said, adding “we honor their sacrifice by humbly committing to union as a nation.”

The 72-year-old cardinal said the cruel assassination of the martyrs 73 years ago marked the beginning of decades of divisions, conflict and darkness for Myanmar’s people — the very opposite of their lofty vision.

“That act of treachery began a merciless epoch with brothers and sisters pitted against one another needlessly,” he noted.

Cardinal Bo’s appeal comes as Myanmar prepares to hold the fourth session of the 21st Century Panglong Peace Conference in Naypyitaw, its remote capital city, from Aug. 19-21.

It’s the last round of peace talk under Aung San Suu Kyi’s government as the country is gearing up for Nov. 8 elections.

State Counselor Suu Kyi initiated what has been branded the 21st century version of the original Panglong peace conference in bringing all ethnic armed groups to the negotiation table.

Peace remains elusive as fighting between the military and the Arakan Army continues to rage in Rakhine state, undermining Suu Kyi’s reconciliation bid.

The government has excluded the Arakan Army from invitation lists for ethnic armed groups to join the upcoming peace conference as it has designated it as a terrorist organization.

Cardinal Bo, who is also president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC), said the United Nations secretary-general and Pope Francis have passionately pleaded for all conflicts to be suspended so that a greater common enemy is defeated.

The calls, however, have been largely ignored and fighting continues unabated in the Southeast Asian nation.

The cardinal said counterproductive military solutions are abandoned in favor of cooperation, civility and sagacity.

“One military, one army, is sufficient for any nation; a military that works for justice and peace; a military which is inclusive of all ethnic groups, without any discrimination,” he stressed.

He added that the military must gradually come under the authority of a democratically accountable elected president.

“A state is entitled to arm itself, and to use its armed forces for its defense, but democracy’s greatest weapons are the influential tools of reconciliation and justice,” he said.

“Peace is possible. Peace means development. Peace is our destiny.”

After having ruled Myanmar with an iron fist for decades, the military still wields enormous power through its control of the defense, home affairs and border security ministries and via its guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats.

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