CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 12 January 2019

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Myanmar’s bishops issue rare statement on religious rights

Mandalay (UCAN): Following recent anti-Muslim violence in Meikhtila and Lashio, Church leaders in the Union Myanmar issued a rare public statement on June urging the government to protect, promote and fulfill the religious rights of all, especially minority communities.

They also called on the government to deal with religious hardliners stoking the violence.  

“We aim to have peaceful coexistence among all religions in Myanmar, but due to extremists in the two communities, this kind of violence has occurred. So we call for peace and justice among all religions and an end to hatred and killing,” Bishop John Hsane Hgyi, said on releasing the statement.

The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar added, “I urge the government and relevant authorities to take effective action against those who stirred the violence.”

In a previous statement released on June 7, the bishops condemned the violence committed by “fundamentalists who indulged in mutual killing” in Arakan, Meikhtila, Lashio and other areas in the country.

“We plead to all that the hard-earned space for democracy and reform needs to be guarded from all fundamentalist forces that threaten to tear apart the fabric of this nation,” the June 7 statement, which was signed by Bishop Hsane, reads.

Sectarian violence against Muslims has spread across many central areas of the predominantly Buddhist country since trouble flared in Arakan State last year. 

Violence in March resulted in the deaths of at least 44 people, prompting Myanmar’s president, Thein Sein, to vow to prevent further incidents. However, clashes have continued and have threatened to spread to major cities.

The latest violence occurred in Lashio, Shan State, on May 29 in which one person was killed, five injured and many Muslim-owned buildings, including a mosque and school were burned down by Buddhist mobs. More than 1,000 people were displaced.

“Religious diversity is the strength of this nation,” the bishops said in their June 10 statement, “Attempts to dilute this fundamental right must be resisted by all.” 

Meanwhile, in a related development, around 200 Buddhist monks from across Myanmar were slated to gather on June 14 for talks about the violence that has shaken the country, after some were implicated in attacks on Muslims.

They will gather at a monastery outside Yangon to explore ways to ease tensions, according to Dhammapiya, a monk acting as a spokesperson for the event.

“Foreigners think that the violence in Myanmar is being led by Buddhist monks,” he explained, adding that while several had taken part in attacks, many more were mistaken for perpetrators as they tried to intervene to halt the mob violence.

 

“Monks collectively will discuss how to stop people committing violence and how to help the government solve the problem,” he said.

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