CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 14 September 2019

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Kachin’s bishops meet Myanmar military chief

MANDALAY (UCAN): Four Kachin bishops met for an hour and 45 minutes with Myanmar’s military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, to discuss prospects for peace in the country’s north, where intense fighting has erupted in recent months between ethnic armed groups and Myanmar’s military in Kachin and Shan states.
 
Retired Archbishop Paul Zinghtung Grawng of Mandalay together with Bishop Philip Lasap Za Hawng of Lashio, Bishop Francis Daw Tang of Myitkyina and Bishop Raymond Sumlut Gam of Banmaw attended a meeting at Bayintnaung Parlour in the capital, Naypyidaw on January 16.
 
Since late last year, the military has conducted an offensive using airstrikes and heavy artillery, resulting in thousands of internally displaced persons fleeing their camps.
 
Bishop Sumlut said they told Min about more sporadic fighting, the situation of displaced people and their desire to return home, as well as the difficulty of providing humanitarian assistance to camps, especially in remote areas.
 
“We conveyed the message on the Catholic Church’s stance of achieving a lasting peace through dialogue instead of arms, and the Church stands ready to take part in nation building in collaboration with all stakeholders,” he told ucanews.com.
 
Bishop Sumlut said the military chief reaffirmed the government’s commitment to ending civil wars in Myanmar while opening the door to negotiation with all armed ethnic groups.
 
Bishop Lasap said the meeting was frank and constructive and expressed hopes that it might have a long term impact on the peace process.
 
“This is a first-time meeting between Kachin bishops and the military chief. Meeting personally and discussing issues frankly is a step forward for peace,” he said.
 
The bishops had been trying to meet with the military leader since a meeting with state counselor, Aung San Suu Kyi, in January 2017.
 
The January 16 meeting comes on the heels of the Pope Francis’ visit to Myanmar when he met privately with Min on 27 November 2017 and highlighted the importance of peace in the country, as well as a greater role for Myanmar’s military in ending the country’s civil wars, according to sources.
 
Min told the bishops that the military does not have any problems with ethnic groups and holds peace talks with armed ethnic organisations.
 
“The Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s armed forces) will accept the discussion of differences with these organisations. They need to have keen wishes to actually restore peace and not to break peace agreements and pledges,” he wrote on his Facebook page on January 17.
 
There has been conflict in Kachin State on and off since 1948 independence from British rule.
 
The situation deteriorated in 2011, with more than 100,000 people being displaced. Most of the state’s 1.7 million Kachins are Christians, including 116,000 Catholics.
 
Suu Kyi pledged to end various decades-long civil wars in the country, but renewed clashes have undermined her peace initiatives and the ongoing fighting has raised serious questions about how much influence she has over the military.
 
The Kachin Independence Army has yet to sign a nationwide ceasefire agreement that only eight out of 20 armed groups have signed so far. 

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