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Bishops talk peace with Suu Kyi

MANDALAY (UCAN): Ethnic minority groups in the Union of Myanmar have always regarded Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counsellor of the nation, as having little interest in their fate, so they believe the challenge of bringing peace to their country necessitates she develop a new concern.

On January 15 she met with four bishops from the Kachin and Shan states in the north of the country to discuss prospects for peace in the volatile area, which has seen many decades of conflict between the military and armed ethnic armed groups.

Bishop Philip Lasap Za Hawng, from of Lashio, Bishop Francis Daw Tang, from Myitkyina, Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam, from Banmaw and the retired Archbishop Paul Zinghtung Grawng, who is Kachin and came from Myitkyina to become archbishop of Mandalay, attended a meeting at Suu Kyi’s residence in Naypyidaw.

The bishops discussed the situation in Kachin and Shan states, which have been a hotbed of violence and seen hundreds of thousands of people displaced for almost a decade.

Since August last year, the military has been conducting an offensive in the Kachin state using airstrikes and heavy artillery, resulting in thousands more fleeing their homes near Laiza, the headquarters of the Kachin Independence Army.

Bishop Gam reported that the bishops told Suu Kyi how the continued fighting is further destabilising efforts to bring peace to the country.

“We stressed how the fighting leads to more displaced people, insecurity and difficulty dispensing humanitarian assistance, so we appealed to Suu Kyi to help reduce sporadic fighting in ethnic areas,” Bishop Gam said.

Bishop Hawng said he is concerned for the safety of civilians, as shells have landed near camps for internally displaced people.

The bishops reported that they told Suu Kyi the Church supported her Panglong Peace Conference and that all the people of Myanmar, including the Kachin and the Shan, long for a durable peace.

The peace process is a priority for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who initiated the conference that was held in August to begin ending decades of internal conflict.

“Suu Kyi also appealed to us to tell the people to have patience with the transition to democracy and to have trust and confidence in the groups pursuing peace,” Bishop Gam noted.

She told the bishops that all stakeholders would need to take a calculated risk in entering the peace process to end the decades-long fighting.

Archbishop Grawng commented that both sides—the military and ethnic armed groups—need to sit at the negotiation table instead of clinging to their own demands.

The renewed fighting is also a blow to Suu Kyi’s government, as the next round table of her peace initiative is scheduled for February this year.

The Nobel laureate has pledged to end hostilities in the country, which has been bedeviled with conflict for nearly 70 years.

Win Htein, from the ruling National League for Democracy Party, said Suu Kyi will be pushing for peace no matter what challenges she faces.

“We need the military cooperation, as it is the key player and its collaboration will speed up the peace process,” Win Htein explained.

Observers say the military remains powerful in the civilian-led government and has taken up the recent offensive to put pressure on Kachin fighters to sign a ceasefire agreement.

Sporadic fighting has occurred between the military and the Kachin Independence Army since 2011, which has forced about 100,000 people out of their homes.

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