Residents who fled from conflict between the Myanmar army and the Arakan Army arrive at a temporary refugee camp at a monastery in Sittwe, Rakhine state, on June 29. (Photo: AFP)
The Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar (CBCM) has appealed to state and non-state actors to end hostilities and invest in peace in a nation which has been bedeviled with protracted civil wars. The bishops have decried ongoing conflict that has led to thousands of people becoming displaced amid the global fight against Covid-19. “Covid has proven to be a great challenge even for superpowers. Countries have invested all their energies in waging a mighty war against this lethal virus,” they said. “As we are all together in this, only by unity we can win this challenge. War-torn countries are the most vulnerable,” the bishops said in a letter issued on June 29. The letter was signed by bishops from 16 dioceses including Cardinal Charles Bo, Bishop Felix Lian Khen Thang, president of the CBCM, and Bishop John Saw Yaw Han, general secretary of the CBCM.
The church leaders said they are saddened by the continued conflict in Kachin, Shan, Kayin and Rakhine states. “People living in IDP [internally displaced person] camps are most vulnerable and their rights should be respected,” said the bishops. “In this regard, any kind of land grabbing should not be extended in IDPs’ land and ensure and restore their property rights in their places of origin.” There are nearly 250,000 IDPs in the country, according to the UN. The call from church leaders comes as fighting has intensified between the Tatmadaw (military) and the Arakan Army, a group that has been fighting for self-autonomy in Rakhine and Chin states since December 2018. Thousands of people from 39 villages recently fled their homes to make way for clearance operations by the Tatmadaw. The bishops said Myanmar has seen six decades of war with no winners. “Death and displacement of innocent people continues. War shows no de-escalation. Thousands of our innocent people suffer.” The church leaders have urged the government and the Tatmadaw “rather than trying to prevail militarily” to find a “political strategy to address the grievances and give the communities renewed hope that electoral democracy can help them achieve their aspiration through peaceful means.” “The coming elections are a great opportunity to invest in democracy. The elections offer a great hope that a representative political participation is possible and it is the only way ahead,” the bishops stressed. “Just, equitable and inclusive solutions are possible through cessation of hostilities and willingness to dialogue in good faith.” Myanmar has seen decades-long civil war since gaining independence from the British in 1948. Aung San Suu Kyi’s government took power in 2016 following a landslide victory in the 2015 elections, formally ending more than six decades of iron-fisted military rule in the Southeast Asian nation. Suu Kyi has pledged to prioritize peace, but ongoing conflicts have undermined her efforts at bringing all ethnic armed groups to the negotiation table and cessation of hostilities. Myanmar is preparing for its third general election in six decades in November — coronavirus permitting — which observers say is a landmark development for the country’s transition to democracy.
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