ROME – Nearly a month after a military coup ousted Myanmar’s government, the country’s bishops have urged leaders in all parties at every level to strive for peace and reconciliation after two people died in protests over the weekend.
“We, Catholic bishops representing 16 Catholic dioceses, spread all over the country, send this appeal especially to those in power, pleading for restraint in the streets and a return to dialogue,” the bishops said in a Feb. 21 statement.
This plea, they said, “comes amidst deep anguish and pain in witnessing more blood in the streets. The sad and shocking events have brought huge sorrow to our nation. The heartrending scenes of youth dying in the streets wound the conscience of a nation.”
Noting that Myanmar, also called Burma, is referred to as “a golden land,” the bishops said to not let the country’s “sacred ground be soaked in fraternal blood. Sadness of parents burying their children has to stop. Mothers’ tears are never a blessing to any nation.”
This latest appeal from Myanmar’s bishops comes after the country’s military – which ruled the nation from 1962-2011 – ousted State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and her government Feb. 1, accusing them of not investigating allegations of voter fraud in the November 2020 elections, which Kuu Kyi’s National League for Democracy won in a landslide.
Observers theorized that the military feared Suu Kyi would have used her supermajority to change the national constitution, which the army itself had authored in a way that reserves several powers to itself.
Ever since the Feb. 1 coup, during which Suu Kyi was imprisoned, mass demonstrations have taken place throughout Myanmar, which have become increasingly violent.
On Saturday, tens of thousands of people took to the streets in Myanmar’s capital city of Yangon. At least two people died, and 20 others were wounded when police opened fire on the protesters.
After the day’s demonstrations, the military junta – which is now calling itself the State Administration Council – issued a threatening statement saying it would resort to lethal force against protesters if needed.
“It is found that protesters have raised their incitement towards riot and anarchy mob on the day of 22 February. Protesters are now inciting the people, especially emotional teenagers and youths, to a confrontation path where they will suffer the loss of life,” the council said Sunday evening on state broadcaster MRTV.
That same evening Myanmar’s bishops came together to discuss the deteriorating situation, calling for a halt to violence and a return to dialogue.
In their statement, the bishops noted that only last month, the country “held in her heart a great promise: Dreams of enhanced peace and robust democracy.”
“Despite the onslaught of a global pandemic, the nation held an election. The world admired our capacity for managing our differences. Today the world weeps with us, shattered by the fragmentation of this nation once again,” they said, adding, “Our youth deserve better.”
“With prayers in our hearts, we plead with all the stakeholders, return to dialogue…let us invest our energy in reconciliation. Healing needs to start with the release of detained leaders,” they said, adding, “the recourse to violence has to stop.”
After 72 years of independence, “those in power need to invest in peace. The peace dividend will heal this nation. Give peace a chance. Peace is possible, peace is the only way,” they said.
As of Monday, large-scale crowds clogged Myanmar’s towns and cities calling for a mass strike against the coup and in protest of the deaths during the weekend’s demonstrations.
Images from photographers shows tens of thousands of people packing the streets of cities such as Yangon, Mandalay, and Naypyidaw, despite the military’s thread of deadly force.
Several countries internationally have condemned the violence, with some taking punitive measures. Tech giants such as Facebook have also stepped in, closing the page of Myanmar’s army, known as the Tatmadaw.
EU leaders were planning a meeting Monday to discuss the situation on Myanmar, as tensions and demonstrations continue to heat up.
In a Feb. 22 statement from Religions for Peace, a Myanmar NGO dedicated to cultivating a culture of peace by advancing interreligious cooperation, the organization asked for a de-escalation of the “sad turn of events” in the country.
“More blood has been shed in this month,” they said, voicing support for the people and criticizing what they said has been the “shedding of the blood of innocents.”
“Working with all stakeholders in Myanmar, we have appreciated the gains of peace and democracy in the past decade. We nurtured great expectations of a nation built on those gains,” they said, insisting that the dispute over November’s election results “have fragmented the nation.”
“We plead with all stakeholders: Peace is possible, peace is the only way. A long-suffering nation can be healed only through dialogue, not violence in the streets,” they said, pointing to the cumulative impact of the pandemic and increased violence on the poor.
They asked the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) “to urgently offer its good services to Myanmar as a member state,” saying “This is a time to step up its service to the people of Myanmar, including all ethnic minorities, before it is too late.”
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