Myanmar Church calls for ‘humanitarian corridor’ to conflict areas
The United Nations warns that with thousands of displaced people deprived of food, water and medicine in Kayah state, massive deaths could result from starvation, disease and exposure.
By Robin Gomes
Myanmar’s Catholic bishops have called for a “humanitarian corridor” for thousands of trapped and starving displaced people in conflict areas. They also called for respect for places of worship and other neutral sites where many innocent civilians have sought refuge.
“As our country goes through difficult times, this appeal is being made for humanitarian reasons,” said a message from the Myanmar Catholic Bishops’ Conference (CBCM). “We are not politicians, we are religious leaders, accompanying our people in their journey towards human dignity,” said the CBCM in the message published at the end of its plenary assembly in Yangon, from June 8 to 11. .
Demonstration of coup d’état and ethnic conflicts
The impoverished nation of Southeast Asia has been plunged into chaos since the February 1 military coup that overthrew the elected government and detained its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi. Protests and strikes against the coup have crippled parts of the economy.
The crisis has also rekindled Myanmar’s old conflicts between the military and some of the armed ethnic organizations. The areas occupied by the Kachin, Chin, Karen and Kayah ethnic groups, which have suffered oppression and persecution from the military for decades, are largely Christian. It is estimated that a third of Myanmar’s territory – mainly border regions – is currently controlled by around 20 armed rebel groups. The army has stepped up its offensive against ethnic guerrillas and anti-coup resistance groups by deploying fighter jets and heavy artillery. Many civilians caught up in the clashes fled their homes and villages and sought refuge in places of worship or went to the jungles where they lack food and other basic needs.
Christians are a minority in this predominantly Buddhist country, accounting for 6.2 percent of its 54 million people. Myanmar Catholics make up about 1.5 percent of the population.
Threat of famine
The message signed by the 13 members of the CBCM contains four appeals. First, they noted: “Thousands of people, especially the elderly and children, are starving in the jungle. “The famine of the innocent is the most heartbreaking experience. They are our fellow citizens and they have a fundamental right to food and security. Therefore, “we ask everyone to please allow the humanitarian corridor to reach the hungry masses wherever they are”.
Places of worship under attack
Second, the bishops noted that during the recent conflict, thousands of people sought refuge in churches. Four churches in the Diocese of Loikaw in Kayah State were the target of military artillery fire and thousands of people sheltering there fled elsewhere or into the jungle. The bishops called for respect for international wartime standards for shrines. Churches, pagodas, monasteries, mosques and temples, including schools and hospitals, are recognized as neutral places of refuge during conflict and should not be targeted. “We call for these places not to be attacked and for people seeking refuge to be protected,” the bishops said.
The bishops also launched an appeal to all the dioceses of the country to intensify their spiritual campaign. “Our destiny is in the hands of God”, who “must change the hearts of all, bringing peace to this nation”. “As a nation, we have suffered a lot and it should stop”, they declared, inviting each diocese to a period of “intense prayer, seeking compassion in the hearts of all and peace for this nation”. They thus called on all the dioceses to offer daily Mass for the peace and reconciliation of the country, to recite the prayer of the CBCM after Mass, to observe a daily hour of adoration alone or in groups, and to recite the Rosary, by asking the mother for protection of Mary, Mother of help. This is a continuation of what the president of the CBCM, Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, had urged before the Marian month of May.
In search of lasting peace
Finally, the bishops of Myanmar urged all parties to work for lasting peace. They noted that the past 7 decades that their country has been in conflict has caused nothing but tears and crushed innocent people. However, the nation must “invest in peace”. Because “no one has won a war in this country”, the bishops wrote, “it is our duty to work for peace”.
“This country deserves to join the community of nations, to put its past in history and to invest in peace.” “Human dignity is given by God and no violence can nullify people’s aspiration for human dignity,” the bishops stressed, adding that history has proven that this can be achieved by peaceful means. “Peace is still possible. Peace is the way, ”they added.
UN – Critic Kayah
The United Nations warned on Wednesday that the situation had become critical in Kayah. The People’s Defense Forces militias clashed with the well-equipped Myanmar army, which responded with artillery and airstrikes, triggering an exodus of civilians to nearby forests.
Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, has warned that the state could suffer “massive” loss of life beyond anything seen since the military took over. seized power, with more than 100,000 people fleeing their homes to escape the conflict.
“The brutal and indiscriminate attacks by the junta threaten the lives of several thousand men, women and children in Kayah state,” Andrews said in a statement. “Let me speak frankly. Massive deaths from starvation, disease and exposure, on a scale we have yet to see since the February 1 coup, could occur in Kayah state without immediate action, ”he warned.
Diocese of Loikaw
Father Celso Ba Shwe, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Loikaw, said as fighting escalates in Kayah and neighboring Shan state, churches, convents and monasteries have opened their doors to civilians. on the run, regardless of their religion and ethnicity, especially the elderly, children, women, the sick and the disabled.
As of June 7, he said, 23 camps for internally displaced people have been set up and about 45,000 displaced people are in the custody of the Catholic Church in Loikaw. But after the attacks on the churches, they are again dispersed.
He called on both parties to the conflict in Kayah to refrain from targeting places of worship.
With food, possessions and gasoline prevented from reaching Kayah, Father Shwe warned of “imminent famine”.
Diocese of Beijing
A source from the diocese of Pekhon in neighboring Shan state told Vatican news agency Fides that the army destroyed tons of rice stored to feed displaced people in the village of Loi Ying Taungche, near from the town of Moebye.
The source noted that the army was following the “four cuts policy”: cutting off all access to food, communications, transport and finance, to crush all resistance and protest.
According to the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 175,000 people have been displaced in Kachin, Karen, Chin, Kayah and Shan states since the February 1 coup.