Updated: March 11, 2021 03:26 AM GMT
Father Celso Ba Shwe approaches dozens of security personnel before they dispersed protesters in Loikaw, capital of Kayah state, on March 9. (Photo: Aung Nge Philip)
A day after a Kachin nun’s brave act in confronting security forces, a Catholic priest played a mediator role in a Catholic stronghold in northeastern Myanmar.
Wearing a white robe, Father Celso Ba Shwe, apostolic administrator of Loikaw Diocese, walked in front of dozens of security personnel who stood ready to crack down on anti-coup protesters in Loikaw, capital of Kayah state, on March 9.
As police ordered protesters to disperse via a loudspeaker, the priest pleaded with them not to harm unarmed civilians.
"Please, I plead with you not to give harm," he told one police officer.
The priest’s request, however, was ignored by security personnel and they started to disperse the protesters with rubber bullets and tear gas, causing several injuries.
Father Ba Shwe’s mediation followed the inspiring example of Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng from Myitkyina, Kachin state, who knelt on the road and begged security forces not to shoot the protesters on Feb. 28 and March 8.
The priest took the role of apostolic administrator of Loikaw on Dec. 21 following Bishop Stephen Tjephe’s death on Dec. 16.
Local Catholics have praised the priest’s brave act and condemned the security forces who ignored his plea.
“I’m proud of being a Catholic as we have priests and nuns who are brave to stand up for the people,” one posted on Facebook.
“Like the priest’s brave act, I wanted to see a cardinal and bishops carrying out the same move in their respective dioceses,” said another comment.
Priests, nuns and seminarians in Loikaw have expressed their solidarity with the people of Myanmar since anti-coup protesters took to the streets nationwide following the Feb. 1 coup. They also rallied to pray for peace in the country by reciting the rosary in early February.
Kayah state is regarded as a stronghold of Catholicism in the Buddhist-majority country and ethnic groups such as the Kayah, Kayan and Kayaw reside in the remote, underdeveloped and mountainous region. About 90,000 Catholics live in a state with a population of 355,000.
Anti-coup protests have continued from urban areas to remote regions including Christian strongholds despite crackdowns bypolice and soldiers.
The military’s brutal approach in recent days has drawn strong condemnation from the United Nations and Western countries including the US and Britain.
On March 9, the 15-member UN Security Council failed to agree on a statement that would have condemned the coup, called for restraint by the military and threatened to consider further measures, according to media reports.
China, Russia, India and Vietnam all suggested amendments to the text of a British draft, including the removal of a reference to the coup and a threat to consider further action.
The military has stepped up arrests of National League of Democracy (NLD) officials and other civilians in nighttime raids, actions against independent media, raiding offices and revoking licenses.
Two NLD members died in police custody due to torture by security forces.
More than 60 protesters have been killed and 1,900 people including journalists have been arrested since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a Yangon-based rights group.