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Myanmar's religious leaders need to do more for peace

They cannot be silent in the face of oppression, says Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon

Myanmar's religious leaders need to do more for peace

A 2012 file image of Kachin Independence Army soldiers saying prayers before taking their positions at a frontline camp in Myanmar's northern Kachin state. Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon has recently called upon the Kachin Independence Army to explore avenues of peace and participate in peace initiatives with the government. (Photo by AFP)

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon said that Myanmar's religious leaders need to do more to help the country move closer towards peace and reconciliation.

"What is the position of religious leaders in this war?" and "Where are we in peace talks?" Cardinal Bo asked in a letter June 16 in reference to fighting between the military and the Kachin Independence Army in Kachin state, which renewed June 9, 2011.

"I strongly feel we are failing our people by not pro-actively exploring peace," said the 67-year-old cardinal.

"We cannot be silent to the oppression of our people either by the government or any other armed groups," he said, adding that religious leaders need to believe in a "peaceful solution" to problems.

Cardinal Bo called on the government to pursue peace with sincerity so justice is possible.

"Let peace become the national religion, justice become the national language," said Cardinal Bo.

The appeal by Myanmar's first Cardinal came as the country reflected on five years of renewed fighting in Kachin state, a predominantly Christian region in the north, that has suffered bouts of conflict since the country gained independence from Britain in 1948.

Ethically diverse Myanmar has been plagued by various internal conflicts over the past six decades.

 

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Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon during Mass in December 2015. (ucanews.com photo by John Zaw)

 

In his letter the outspoken Catholic leader criticized hardline Buddhists attitudes of "One nation, one race, one religion." Instead he urged the government to move towards "a rainbow nation with a federal system."

A new civilian-led government took office two months ago, formally ending military rule following a landslide victory in last November's election by Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party.

Cardinal Bo said that democracy has been enthroned through the sacrifices of hundreds of Myanmar citizens who endured a suffocating political system for six decades.

"Myanmar stands on the world stage with great dreams," said the cardinal.

But Cardinal Bo added that such dreams remain out of reach with more than 100,000 Kachins, mostly Christians, living in temporary camps in conflict-ravaged Kachin and northern Shan states.

The government has pledged to prioritize peace in the country and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi recently called for a wide-ranging peace conference, 21st Century Panglong, which is set for July or August this year.

"The Panglong conference is an opportunity not to be missed by any party," said Cardinal Bo.

The prelate called upon the Kachin Independence Army to explore avenues of peace and participate in peace initiatives such as the conference.

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