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Participants in the July 2018 Union Peace Conference (UPC) in Napyitaw, Myanmar.   Participants in the July 2018 Union Peace Conference (UPC) in Napyitaw, Myanmar.   (AFP or licensors)

Cardinal Bo urges unity, dialogue ahead of peace conference

As a decades-long civil war continues to plague Myanmar, the country’s leading Catholic churchman is urging the nation to unity and peace through dialogue and negotiation, not violence.

By Robin Gomes

“There is no other path than dialogue,” said Cardinal Charles Bo, Archbishop of Yangon, in a statement issued in view of the 4th session of the 21st-Century Panglong Union Peace Conference (UPC), scheduled from August 19 to 21 in Myanmar’s capital, Naypyitaw.   

“We’re all damaged by war. No one wins. The only way is peace. With peace, humanity wins,” urged the Cardinal who is president of the Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conferences (FABC). 

The Panglong Conference

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s State Counsellor, the Armed Forces (Tatmadaw) and the leaders of various armed ethnic groups will participate in the upcoming UPC talks in the hopes of ending decades of inter-ethnic conflict in the country.

The government has declared the Arakan Army (AA), which is fighting the Tatmadaw in Rakhine and Chin states, as a terrorist organization. Hence their exclusion from the Panglong Conference. Analysts say that without the AA, other groups are unlikely to attend, defeating the purpose of the conference and leaving the Rakhine and Chin issues unresolved. 

The 1st Panglong Conference took place in 1947 in what was then British-ruled Burma, which laid the foundations for the birth of the nation the following year. Suu Kyi’s father, General Aung San brokered the deal between the four main ethnic groups (Bamar, Chin, Kachin and Shan).

Vision of founding fathers

In his message, Cardinal Bo pledged his prayers for the success of the conference starting on Wednesday. He pointed out that the founding leaders dreamt of a new united nation after the ruins of the Japanese invasion and colonialism They fought “to build on the fertile, life-giving differences among us, and so shape a proud, united people," the Cardinal said.

He lamented Aung San’s brutal assassination in 1947, which, the Cardinal said, led to “decades of division, conflict and darkness” for the people of Myanmar.

Path to peace: unity and dialogue

The 71-year-old Cardinal, who is also co-president of Religions for Peace International, hopes the participants at the negotiations will now overturn the country’s history of death and suffering, needed more so now as the country battles the pandemic.

In this regard, he recalled the appeal for an immediate global ceasefire by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and Pope Francis. “The virus will only be overcome through unity,” the Cardinal said. “Through unity, we will rebuild our nation after the socio-economic, environmental and medical wreckage of the global pandemic.”

In the aftermath of the Covid-19 crisis and with conflicts still lingering, the Cardinal said, “There is no other path than dialogue.”  “Dialogue flows from open hearts and minds, from that passion for truth without which society disintegrates.”  “Vitality,” he said, “comes from the embrace of difference.”  

Military under a democratic government

The Cardinal called for building a truly federal state with a representative government that cares for all its citizens, saying Myanmar’s path is that of democracy.

He warned that military solutions to settle differences are counterproductive and must be abandoned in favour of cooperation, civilisation and wisdom.

He urged for a military which is inclusive of all ethnic groups, without any discrimination, which must come under the authority of a democratically accountable elected president.

Noting that democracy’s greatest weapons are reconciliation and justice, the Cardinal thanked all who follow this path through respectful dialogue and negotiation.

Cardinal Bo believes that peace, which means development, is possible for Myanmar. He wishes that the Panglong finds “the vision, courage and heart to take the path to peace”.

15 August 2020, 19:00