CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 13 July 2019

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Bishop calls for talks over Rakhine crisis

MANDALAY (UCAN): “Solving the problem with arms will not lead to a solution, so both sides need to go to the negotiable table (and work) towards stability and peace,” Bishop Alexander Pyone Cho of Pyay, said, as he called on all parties to return to the negotiation table as fighting escalates in Myanmar’s a Rakhine State.
 
The bishop said tensions remain high between the military and the Arakan Army.
 
More than 4,500 people have fled their homes and taken refuge at monasteries and schools in four townships in Rakhine.
 
“Civilians pay the price of fighting and more people might be fleeing if fighting intensifies,” Bishop Pyone Cho said.
 
The 69-year-old bishop said the renewed fighting in Rakhine will have some impact on the peace process as Aung San Suu Kyi’s government is trying to negotiate with all armed ethnic groups for a durable peace.
 
“It is a challenge for the government but I believe Aung San Suu Kyi will not give up her priority of getting peace as she is very committed to it,” said Bishop Pyone Cho.
 
Myanmar’s military declared a four-month ceasefire in northern and eastern Myanmar on 21 December 2018, but Rakhine was excluded and operations against the Arakan Army have continued.
 
On January 8, Myanmar’s civilian leaders, including state counselor, Suu Kyi, met with a delegation led by military chief, Min Aung Hlaing, to discuss the situation.
 
The Arakan Army was formed in Rakhine in 2009 to protect ethnic Rakhine people and it is estimated to have several thousand well-equipped soldiers.
 
Bishop Pyone Cho’s diocese covers troubled Rakhine, which has experienced the Rohingya crisis as thousands of people fled to Bangladesh following the crackdown by Myanmar’s military in August 2017.
 
The bishop said it is hard to tell how many Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh will return to Myanmar as many believe it is not safe.
 
“From Myanmar’s side, it is ready to accept all refugees but from the Rohingya refugees’ view, fear still remains,” Bishop Pyone Cho explained.
 
The instability in Rakhine might be one more reason the refugees choose to remain in Bangladesh, he said.
 
The bishop acknowledges that international pressure will remain on Myanmar in 2019 but he warns that apportioning blame will only worsen the situation.
 
“The international community also needs to find out the positive things and give a hand to Aung San Suu Kyi’s government to find a lasting solution,” Bishop Pyone Cho said.

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