Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon and five other faith leaders were part of a delegation accompanied by local authorities on a visit to northern Rakhine on May 27. The delegation visited transit and reception centers and met with leaders from Rohingya, Hindu and Mro communities. (Photo by Religion for Peace-International/Myanmar)
Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon was among the international and local interfaith leaders were flown into strife-torn Rakhine State in an effort to better understand the Rohingya crisis.
Six members of Religions for Peace International were taken to Maungdaw township in northern Rakhine on May 27 where they visited transit and reception centers while also meeting with Rohingya, Hindu and Mro communities.
From the air, the delegation also saw hundreds of Rohingya villages that were destroyed during a Myanmar military counter-insurgency campaign waged against Rohingya militants since September last year. More than 670,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to avoid the military's campaign, which has been dubbed ethnic cleansing by the U.N.
Father Joseph Mg Win, secretary of Religions for Peace-Myanmar, thought the visit was successful and added that government officials were supportive.
"As religious leaders, the aim of the visit was to learn the truth after closely observing the situation and from that give a true message to the people of Myanmar and to the international community," said Father Mg Win, who is also head of ecumenism and interfaith commission of Yangon Archdiocese.
Along with Cardinal Bo and Father Mg Win were Myint Swe, a leading Buddhist layman from the Ratana Metta Organization, and Muslim layperson Al Haj U Aye Lwin, the chief convener of the Islamic Center of Myanmar. International members of the group were Norway's Bishop Gunnar Stalsett of Oslo, who is the honorary president of Religions for Peace International, and Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, deputy secretary-general of the group.
Interfaith leaders meet with Rohingya Muslims in Pantawpyin village near Maungdaw, northern Rakhine, on May 27. (Photo by Religions for Peace International/Myanmar )
A day after their visit, Religions for Peace International expressed concern that excessive use of force by state security could hamper a "peace and reconciliation process" while acknowledging the authorities had a duty to maintain law and order.
They urged the Myanmar government to conduct "a thorough and transparent" investigation into what has occurred in Rakhine.
Muslim layperson Aye Lwin said it was a positive that the delegation was able to visit the area and learn more about the government-initiated national verification cards and resettlement plans for returning refugees.
"This is a first step and we have many things to do," said Aye Lwin.
He added that there are information gaps between the government and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh about resettlement efforts and the issuing of national verification cards.
Last week, a larger group of 18 members from Religions for Peace International and Myanmar met with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in Naypyidaw. Suu Kyi welcomed the delegation's offer to assist with peace efforts and humanitarian aid for not only Rakhine State but also other parts of the country experiencing ethnic conflicts.