ASIA/MYANMAR – Cardinal Bo’s appeal: release arrested leaders and resume dialogue

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Yangon – “The elected representatives of our people belonging to the National League for Democracy are under arrest. So are many writers, activists and youth. I urge you, respect their rights and release them at the earliest. They are not prisoners of war; they are prisoners of a democratic process. You promise democracy; start with releasing them”: is the appeal addressed to the leaders of the army by Cardinal Charles Maung Bo who, in the aftermath of the coup, issued a heartfelt Message – sent to Agenzia Fides – addressed to the people of Myanmar and the international community. On the day of the military takeover, the Cardinal was on a pastoral visit in Kachin State and therefore remained isolated for a few days. The Cardinal – authoritative voice of the Catholic Church in Asia, Archbishop of Yangon, President of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Myanmar and President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences , as well as Patron of “Religions for Peace” in Myanmar – writes a long appeal not as politician, he specifies, but “as a spiritual leader, empathizing with the sentiments of millions of people at this moment”. The text is addressed, in four points, to fellow citizens, civilian leaders, the Tatmadaw and the international community. “I have watched with sadness the moments of darkness in our history and watched with hope the resilience of our people in their struggle for dignity. We are journeying through most challenging times of our history. I write with love towards all, seeking a durable solution, praying for an end forever to the periodic darkness that envelops our dear nation”, reads the introduction.
In the first point, speaking to the people of Myanmar, the Cardinal appeals to the citizens: “Stay calm, never fall victim to violence. We have shed enough blood. Let not any more blood be shed in this land. Even at this most challenging moment, I believe that peace is the only way, peace is possible. There are always nonviolent ways for expressing our protests. The unfolding events are the result of a sad lack of dialogue and communication and disputing of diverse views. Let us not continue hatred at this moment when we struggle for dignity and truth. Let all community leaders and religious leaders pray and animate communities for a peaceful response to these events. Pray for all, pray for everything, avoiding occasions of provocation”. And, due to the current pandemic, he pleads “the brave health workers not to abandon the people in need at this time”, as some have resigned as protest from their public service.
In the second point, addressed to the Tatmadaw General and the Tatmadaw Family, he says: “The world has reacted with shock and agony to what has happened. When, in 2015, a peaceful transition to the elected government was effected by the Army, that won the admiration of the world. Today the world tries to understand what went wrong in the following years. Was there a lack of dialogue between the elected civilian authorities and the Tatmadaw? We have seen so much pain in conflicts. Seven decades of shedding blood and the use of violence brought no results. You all promised peace and genuine democracy. Democracy was the streak of hope for solving the problems of this once rich country. This time millions voted for democracy. Our people believe in peaceful transfer of power.
Now the Tatmadaw has unilaterally taken over. Allegations of voting irregularities could have been solved by dialogue, in presence of neutral observers. A great opportunity was lost. Many leaders of the world have condemned and will condemn this shocking move”. He continues: “Now you promise greater democracy – after investigation and another election. Myanmar people are tired of empty promises. How will you gain the trust of our people? They will trust only when words are matched by sincere actions”, urging the military to “take care of the population”, to avoid violence, to respect their rights and to release all leaders under arrest.
The third point speaks to leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the leaders of the National League for Democracy: “You are in this plight in your unending struggle to bring democracy to this nation. The unexpected turn of events has made you prisoners. We pray for you and urge all concerned to release you at the earliest”. “Dear Aung San Suu Kyi – he continues – you have lived for our people, sacrificed your life for our people. You will be always the voice of our people. These are painful days. You have known darkness, you have known light in this nation. Truth will prevail. God is the ultimate arbiter of truth. But God waits. At this moment I offer my personal sympathies with your plight and pray that you may once again walk amidst your people, raising their spirits”. “At the same time I wish to confirm that this incident takes place due to lack of dialogue and communication and lack of acceptance of one another. Please listen to others”.
Finally, the Cardinal addresses the international community, expressing gratitude for the compassionate accompaniment at this moment. However, he emphasizes, “sanctions and condemnations brought few results, rather they closed doors and shut out dialogue. These hard measures have proved a great blessing to those super powers that eye our resources. The international community needs to deal with the reality, understanding well Myanmar’s history and political economy. Sanctions risk collapsing the economy, throwing millions into poverty. Engaging the actors in reconciliation is the only path”.
Cardinal Bo, at the end of the Message “wishes the best for our people”, so that the Burmese nation will once again be “a reconciled community, animated by hope and peace” and, inviting all stakeholders to solve all disputes through dialogue, he reaffirms that “Peace is the only way. Democracy is the only light to that path.