ASIA/MYANMAR - Burmese Bishops: "Peace is the antidote to the virus"

Wednesday, 1 July 2020 wars   violence   peace  


Yangon (Agenzia Fides) - Commitment and investment in peace and reconciliation by state and non-state actors in Myanmar is needed, in the midst of the coronavirus health crisis: this is the appeal launced by the Bishops of Myanmar who, in a note sent to Agenzia Fides, say: "Peace is possible, peace is the only way. Just, fair and inclusive solutions are possible with the cessation of hostilities and the desire to dialogue in good faith". The conference, made up of Bishops representing 16 Catholic dioceses in the country, hopes for the search for new opportunities for solid and lasting peace. "Among the pandemic of COVID-19, the important challenges are reconciliation and the reconstruction of the nation. This is election year, this is the year of hope", said Father Peter Sein Hlaing Oo, Executive Secretary of the Bishops' Conference.
The text of the note continues: "We commend the altruistic dedication of our health professionals in the fight against the pandemic. Despite the deadly challenge of the virus, timely interventions by authorities and medical personnel have so far contained the pandemic. Constant vigilance and the expansion of control and quarantine structures are vital needs. Migrant brothers and sisters who return need our care and compassion".
Quoting the words of Pope Francis, the Burmese Bishops say: "Only with unity we can overcome this challenge". The Prelates recall that war-torn countries are the most vulnerable. United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Pope Francis have called for all hostilities to cease during the pandemic, but their appeal has not been heard. "Peace is the antidote to the virus", the Bishops observe, declaring that they are concerned about the ongoing conflict in Myanmar.
In fact, there has been a regression and a resurgence of the conflict in the Kachin, Sharu Kay and Rakhine areas. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) found that there are nearly 250,000 internally displaced people in the country. The people who live in refugee camps "are the most vulnerable and their rights should be respected", note the Bishops, hoping that "any kind of land grabbing should not touch the lands of displaced people, protecting their property rights in the places of origin.
The text continues: "The conflict in the Rakhine state creates excruciating pain. The current conflict has expelled thousands of innocent people and displaced families are at risk of starvation. The rainy season and Covid-19 increase the risks". Noting that access of humanitarian organizations is still problematic in Rakhine areas, the text calls on the government of Myanmar and the armed forces "to seriously take their responsibilities to promote the rights of all citizens by observing international humanitarian law".
"Myanmar is a land of gold. This land is blessed with great natural and human resources. Peace would have a strong positive impact for everyone. We can go back to becoming one of the richest countries in South East Asia if we know how to invest in peace. Myanmar has seen six decades of war, with no winners", say the Bishops. "The death and displacement of innocent people continues. Thousands of innocent people suffer. Generations of young people are struggling from frustration. War has become an incurable disease in the nation. This must end", they reiterate, also recalling the condition of Rohingya refugees, who fled Myanmar in 2017 during a brutal repression, and who now face a new danger: rain. The annual monsoon, in fact, will soon sweep fields where around 700,000 Rohingya Muslims live in bamboo and plastic huts built along steep hills.
"Seventy-two years after independence - notes the appeal - Myanmar has not yet known peace. Armed ethnic groups are invited to return to the negotiating table. We also urge the government and Tatmadaw (the armed forces of Myanmar) to try not to prevail militarily, but to find a political strategy to face the demands and give ethnic communities a renewed hope, so that electoral democracy can help them achieve their aspirations".
By the end of 2020, Myanmar is expected to organize general elections for legislative bodies. Since 1922, Myanmar has had 16 national elections so far. The last general elections took place in 2015. In view of the general elections, the Bishops declare: "The upcoming elections are a great opportunity to invest in democracy. Covid's new threat calls for unity and peace. The upcoming elections offer great hope: a broad and representative political participation of all citizens and this is the only path to follow". (SD-PA) (Agenzia Fides 1/7/2020)