Catholic Church leaders from across Asia have appealed for “peace and reconciliation” in Myanmar as the crackdown against opposition to last month’s military coup continued this week.
“Peace, peace. Peace is possible. Peace is necessary,” read the statement signed by all 12 Catholic cardinals from across Asia.
The statement, signed on March 19 but only released to the media on March 23, was addressed to the country’s military, politicians, protesters and religious leaders.
“It is with deep sadness and great distress that we have been following the events in Myanmar,” the church leaders said.
“There is too much anger, too much violence, too much blood shed, too much suffering and pain inflicted on a peace-loving populace which only seeks unity, harmony, and an opportunity for progress in freedom,” they added.
The cardinals said they were adding their voice “in making a fervent appeal to all concerned” for peace in the country.
“Please begin a dialogue to find a solution, a way to go ahead,” they said.
The said that the image of a religious sister kneeling on the streets of the northern city of Myitkyina, pleading for peace has been “etched in the minds of the world.”
The video and photographs of Sister Ann Rose Nu Tawng pleading with security forces in on several occasions during demonstrations have become viral on social media.
“The people of Myanmar we know are peace loving and only seeking an opportunity for progress,” said the cardinals. “They have been law abiding and cooperating with all authorities.”
“At the moment they only seek harmony and end to violence,” read the statement.
The church leaders assured Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon, who has been vocal in his calls for an end to the conflict in Myanmar, of solidarity.
“We are with you. We share your pain and anguish,” said the cardinals in the letter.
“We join you as you lead your people in prayer to God for a speedy resolution of the conflict, and for light to all to see the way towards a solution,” they added.
“Violence is never a solution; force is never a solution. It only gives rise to more pain and suffering, more violence and destruction,” read the statement.
The cardinals also called on all religious leaders in Myanmar “to join us in this prayer for peace, in this appeal for peace and in making efforts for peace.”
The statement was signed by Cardinals Malcolm Ranjith of Sri Lanka; Oswald Gracias of India; Thomas Aquino Manyo Maeda of Japan; Francis Xavier Kriengsak Kovithavanij of Thailand;
Cornelius Sim of Brunei; Ignatius Suharyo of Indonesia; Orlando Quevedo of the Philippines; John Tong Hon of Hong Kong; George Alencherry of the Syro-Malabar Church;
Patrick D’Rozario of Bangladesh; Baselios Cleemis Thottunkal of the Syro-Malankara Ecclesiastical Traditions; and Louis-Marie Ling Mangkhanekhoun of Cambodia.
Crackdown claims youngest victim
The release of the cardinals’ statement came in the wake of the killing of a young girl in her home when security forces opened fire in Myanmar’s second city Mandalay on March 23.
The 7-year-old girl became the youngest victim so far in a crackdown against opposition to last month’s military coup.
Staff at a Mandalay funeral service told Reuters that the girl had died of bullet wounds.
Soldiers shot at her father but hit the girl who was sitting on his lap inside their home, her sister told Myanmar Now media outlet. Two men were also killed in the same township of Chan Mya Thazi, it said.
The military had no immediate comment on the incident.
The ruling junta has repeatedly accused pro-democracy protesters of arson and violence during the weeks of unrest, and said it would use the least force possible to quell the daily demonstrations.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun said 164 protesters had been killed in total and he expressed sadness at the deaths.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners group, however, said at least 261 people have been killed in the crackdown.
The junta has faced international condemnation for staging the coup that halted Myanmar’s slow transition to democracy and for its lethal suppression of the protests that followed.
It has tried to justify the takeover by saying a Nov. 8 election won by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy was fraudulent.
Military leaders have promised a new election but have not set a date and have declared a state of emergency.