Myanmar archbishop urges respect of human dignity in conflict
By Lisa Zengarini
As attacks on civilians by the military junta in Myanmar continue to escalate, with indiscriminate shelling and bombing, and houses being set ablaze in several regions across the country, Archbishop Marco Tin Win of Mandalay is callin for respect of human dignity and property.
Catholic villages targeted
Over the past weeks, the military junta which took over the reins of power on February 1, 2021, has been specifically targeting historic Catholic villages in the Buddhist Bamar heartland of Sagaing, home region to Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, in a bid to crack down on growing resistance by people’s defense forces. Amid them the Mon Hla village, where air strikes and artillery shelling have hit a church, a convent and houses, and its inhabitants are seeking shelter in forests and other safe areas. The military have also stepped up offensives in the neighbouring Magwe region and Chin State in the West forcing villagers to flee their homes and to live in makeshift camps with no food.
In a video-message quoted by Ucanews agency, Archbishop Tin Win said he is “deeply disheartened to learn about the suffering of thousands of people, especially from villages, including Catholics whose homes have been burnt and properties looted, and who have become homeless, displaced and in dire need of food and shelter”.
Protection of basic human rights must be prioritized
The prelate, also born in the Sagaing region, therefore urged all fighting parties “not to burn and destroy civilian homes and respect their properties”. “Food, clothing, shelter and healthcare are basic rights of all human beings and need to be prioritized”, he said.
Archbishop Tin Win further remarked that Catholic villagers in Mandalay Archdiocese affected by the ongoing conflict have been living side by side with Buddhists peacefully and harmoniously for decades. “They have mutual understanding and respect despite their differences and there have never been religious conflicts in those villages,” he said.
Amnesty International report on widespread use of landmines
Meanwhile, in a report released on Wednesday, Amnesty International (AI) accused the Myanmar's military regime of committing war crimes by using anti-personnel landmines on a massive scale in and around villages in predominantly Christian Kayah state. The human rights organization recalled that anti-personnel landmines are inherently indiscriminate and their use is internationally banned. It said the landmines laid by the the Tamadaw, the Myanmar armed forces, have killed and seriously injured civilians and will have significant long-term consequences, including on displaced people’s ability to return home and farm their lands.
AI researchers interviewed 43 people in Kayah state’s Hpruso and Loikaw townships from June 25 to July 8 where fighting erupted between the military and armed Karenni groups in May 2021. The military has laid mines in at least 20 villages in Hpruso, Demoso and Loikaw townships in Kayah state in recent months, AI said citing "credible sources."
Bishops' repeated calls for nonviolence and dialogue
Since the military coup which ousted democratic and now imprisoned leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the junta forces in Myanmar have killed over 2,000 civilians, arrested more than 14,000, displaced more than 700,000, driving the number of internally displaced persons well over one million, and plunged the country into an economic and humanitarian crisis threatening the lives of millions.
Local Church leaders, including outspoken Cardinal Charles Maung Bo, president of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Myanmar (CBCM), have repeatedly appealed for nonviolence, dialogue, and for the restoration of democracy, urging the respect of human life, places of worship, hospitals, and schools. These appeals have remained unheeded even after Cardinal Bo met the head of Myanmar's military junta, General Min Aung Hlaing, in December 2021, and the military offensive has continued to escalate.