By Philippa Hitchen
Church leaders from Myanmar’s northern Kachin state are calling for justice and peace in the region, following a sharp escalation of hostilities between government forces and the Kachin Independence Army.
The United Nations reported this week that the military has carried out aerial bombings and shelling of villages close to the border with China. The UN special rapporteur on human right in Myanmar said on Tuesday that civilians are being “killed and injured, and hundreds of families are now fleeing for their lives”.
Bishop Francis Daw Tang heads the northern diocese of Myitkyina: he and the rest of the country’s bishops are in Rome for their ad limina visits and are due to meet with Pope Francis on Monday.
He talked to Vatican News about his concerns and about the continued efforts of religious leaders to work for peace and reconciliation in the war torn region
He said that the military has been ordering people to leave the amber mining areas for over a year, but that they have now begun to attack the border region.
“Bit by bit”, he said, the military is entering the area, ordering civilians, including native people and miners out of the region. “Many villages were attacked”, he said and a few people have escaped, but many have been trapped deep in the jungle for at least three weeks.
Many civilians trapped in jungle
As church leaders, Bishop Tang continued, “we’ve been trying our best to communicate, to reach out to them, but up to the day I came out [of Myanmar] there was no opportunity”. For this reason, he said, many young people are organizing demonstrations and requesting the government and military “to let the people go”.
No food or medical care
Those trapped in the jungle are suffering hardships, he said, with “no food, no medical care, no freedom of moving around”.
The bishop said he didn’t know exact numbers of the dead and injured, but he told the story of one family he visited where the father was killed by shelling, while the mother was severely injured by bullets and taken to hospital.
Church leaders seeking reconciliation
Asked about efforts to negotiate with the military or government leaders, Bishop Tang said currently only he and the Catholic bishops are “accepted by the military top leader”, known as the Northern Commander. Since other Church leaders are not allowed to participate in any talks, he said he speaks with the pastors, before and after meeting with the commander, in order to share their views and report back to them.
Kachins want peace and justice
Asked what message he wished to share with the international community, Bishop Tang said: “We want peace, justice, that’s all. If there’s no justice, there’s no peace, so we would like to request on behalf of all Kachins, and all people from Myanmar, peace and justice”.