By Robin Gomes
As the entire world is currently engaged in a war against a deadly invisible enemy that is taking lives across the globe in tens of thousands, Myanmar’s military has been ramping up its offensive against the country’s armed ethnic militias.
This is why the country’s cardinal is raising his voice again, lending support to the call by the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres and Pope Francis, for a global ceasefire, in favour of humanity’s more urgent war against the Covid-19 virus.
With conflict Myanmar is vulnerable
“The pandemic’s consequences are catastrophic for public health and for social and economic life. This is no time to escalate the conflict,” urges Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, in a statement released on Wednesday.
“I am convinced that continued military operations, precisely when the whole nation is suffering a crisis, will have catastrophic consequences for our nation,” warns the cardinal, who is also President of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC).
“Now is the time for decisions that will build Myanmar as a united, peaceful, prosperous nation and member of the family of nations,” says the cardinal, adding, “Conflict makes Myanmar especially vulnerable.”
The country’s “national and ethnic leaders are able to choose between the path that seeks trust and cooperation for the good of all and so unite the nation,” and “the path of continued conflict, which surely will only lead to overwhelming consequences of deeper disaster for those who already greatly distressed,” says the 71-year-old Archbishop of Yangon.
Surge in conflict
The UN human rights office (OHCHR) reported last week that the situation in Rakhine and neighbouring Chin state was again dire. A recent surge in violence between the ethnic Arakan Army armed group and the national forces has affected civilians of all ethnic groups.
OHCHR spokesperson, Richard Colville on April 17 lamented that Guterres’ recent appeal for a global ceasefire during the COVID-19 pandemic has been ignored in Myanmar.
A local World Health Organization (WHO) worker carrying Covid-19 swabs was killed in a security incident in Rakhine state on Monday. Guterres strongly condemned the killing.
Myanmar vs Covid-19
Myanmar’s strategy of putting thousands of suspected infected persons under quarantine across the country appears to be effective in containing the spread of the coronavirus. The health ministry reported two new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, bringing the total to 123, with 5 deaths.
Citing State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi on the importance of protecting people from the epidemic, Cardinal Bo expressed appreciation for some of the steps taken by the Ministry of Health and Sports, but adds that “heightened military operations, by whatever sides, contradict all these enlightened initiatives.”
In this situation, Cardinal Bo points to the threats to the country. “Soldiers are unnecessarily endangered by exposure to the unseen viral assassin. Civilians are endangered, even by bombardments purportedly aimed at military targets. Peace negotiations are endangered by continued aggressive threats. An economy under severe strain is put at risk by military adventures. Any spike in contagion in IDP [internally displaced persons] camps, among detained persons, or in crowded spaces, gravely threatens the surrounding populations as well.”
Lay down weapons
Appealing passionately to the nation’s leaders the Cardinal says, “If we truly wish Myanmar to emerge a united, peaceful, prosperous people, now is the time for a speedy, aggressive, respectful decision." "Now is the time for wise, coherent, future-oriented action."
Citing countries like Cameroon, the Philippines, Yemen, and Syria that have already accepted to reduce violence because of the pandemic threat, Cardinal Bo invites warring parties in Myanmar to “lay down all weapons and [stop] acts of aggression".
In this regard, the Cardinal assures that the Catholic Church is “ready at all times to encourage and mediate a new and timely dialogue among diverse parties".