Home News Myanmar conflict: a state of unprecedented turmoil and suffering, Cardinal Bo says

Myanmar conflict: a state of unprecedented turmoil and suffering, Cardinal Bo says

In an interview with ACI Prensa, CNA’s Spanish-language news partner, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, archbishop of Yangon in Myanmar, said there is an “unprecedented state of turmoil and suffering, which seems to have no end” in the country resulting from a coup d’état at the beginning of 2021 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The conflict has already left more than 100 places of worship bombed or damaged, the cardinal said, and the violence has spread in many areas of the territory.

In addition, he said that almost 3 million people have been displaced and are in urgent need of assistance, which has been arriving little by little thanks to the work of the Catholic Church and other nongovernmental organizations such as Religions for Peace

Religious freedom under threat

Although Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, the constitution guarantees religious freedom. However, Bo pointed out a worrying reality: “The last decade saw the emergence of fundamentalist forces that targeted minority religions.”

The situation has been exacerbated by recent political unrest affecting people of all faiths who are suffering the consequences of an expanding civil war. “Peace is the common prayer of all the religions,” the cardinal emphasized.

The conflict has left a devastating mark on the country’s religious infrastructure, especially in the Sagaing region and the Diocese of Loikaw, the archbishop reported.

“The attack on places of worship has forced many congregations to abandon their churches, a significant blow to predominantly Christian communities such as Kachin,” he lamented.

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Furthermore, armed ethnic groups, which do not officially represent any religion, are often mistakenly associated with their particular faith, which quickly leads to attacks against places of worship.

How is the Catholic Church surviving?

“Summer has brought unbearable heat and water is scarce. The Church has suffered but continues to be a source of healing, especially through the priests and religious and social work,” Bo related.

The prelate also said that Catholic churches have taken in numerous internally displaced people throughout the country.

“The needs are enormous and food security is an urgent need for our people,” he emphasized.

The cardinal, who is also president of the Myanmar Bishops’ Conference, said many religious communities have lost homes, monasteries, and churches due to the violence.

In November 2018, Pope Francis visited the country. According to the archbishop of Yangon, during his visit the pope gave “several messages of love and peace, but unfortunately it didn’t register.” Despite everything, the pontiff, the cardinal added, brought a message of peace between religions and their leaders.

In the face of so much violence, the cardinal made a universal call to bring about peace in Myanmar:  “We call on all parties to seek a path of peace. At the beginning of the war, the Church tried to bring together all parties to work for consensus. Recently, the avenues for peace seem to be limited, but the Church continues to reach out to all stakeholders in the hope of bringing peace.”

United Nations warns: ‘Never-ending nightmare’ in Myanmar

In early March, the United Nations (U.N.) expressed its profound concern about the situation in Myanmar, describing the crisis as a “never-ending nightmare” that has inflicted unbearable levels of suffering and cruelty on its population.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk reported in May that the military regime has caused thousands of deaths, including airstrikes in towns and cities, and has arbitrarily detained more than 20,000 opponents, including 3,909 women. 

Additionally, the U.N. Security Council in April called for an immediate end to violence, the release of arbitrarily detained prisoners, and improved humanitarian access. 

Finally, the U.N. also reported that the humanitarian emergency will worsen this year, with 18.6 million people needing assistance in 2024, a figure 19 times higher than that recorded in February 2021.

The coup d’état in Myanmar

In early 2021, the Asian country’s armed forces (known as Tatmadaw) seized control of the government, alleging election fraud in the general elections of Nov. 8, 2020, in which the National League for Democracy (NLD) party of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1991, won a landslide victory.

However, these claims of fraud were not supported by independent observers and are seen by many as an excuse for the military to regain control of the country. 

Although Myanmar moved to civilian rule in 2011, the country’s constitution — enacted by the military in 2008 — ensures that the military retains significant control over the government, including control of important ministries and a quarter of the seats in Parliament. 

The NLD’s overwhelming victory in 2020 increased the Tatmadaw’s concern about the loss of its political and economic influence. The combination of these circumstances, among several other factors, led the military to overthrow the democratically elected government, arrest Aung San Suu Kyi and other NLD leaders, and declare a state of emergency, promising new elections, which have not yet materialized.

Consequently, the coup d’état triggered widespread resistance, mass protests, and an escalation of armed conflicts across the country, thrusting Myanmar into its current, unprecedented humanitarian and human rights crisis.

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