Burmese religious leaders: fight poverty to stop sectarian violence
by Francis Khoo Thwe
This is what an interfaith conference on peace held in Yangon said in its final statement. Leaders from five major religions call for better education to strengthen "national identity" in a multi-religious setting, and the recognition of the "need for frequent discussion [. . .] among the leaders of different faiths in a spirit of mutual respect".

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Poverty is one of the main causes of conflict. For this reason, Burmese religious leaders must work together for the common good and in their mutual interest. At the same time, education must be improved in order to strengthen national identity in a multi-religious setting, this according to the final communiqué issued at the end of the Academic Conference on Security, Peace and Coexistence held earlier this month in Yangon.

Leaders from five of Myanmar's main religions took part in the event that saw the participation of 226 Burmese government officials, academics, religious leaders from around the world as well as more than 200 observers.

"We understand that this dialogue is the beginning of the beginning and that this dialogue must take practical form at the local level," the statement said.

The interfaith conference was held on 1-2 October 2013at the Sitagu International Buddhist Academy, Yangon, in joint partnership with the Institute for Global Engagement. Buddhist, Hindu, Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders attended the event with a greater commitment to peace in the country as their common goal.

Violence in some regions was highlighted, including the western state of Rakhine, scene since June 2012 of sectarian violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. Despite good intentions, the situation remains critical in this part of the country as violence continues to cause deaths and injuries.

In a context still marked by attacks and suspicions, religious leaders' call for peace and mutual coexistence becomes more pressing and urgent.

Mgr Charles Bo, archbishop Yangon, represented the Catholic Church. For him, a strong signal must be sent "to those who want to plant the seeds of discord" in the country. Instead, the Burmese must build together a country in which "the future is based on justice, peace and fraternal cooperation."

In the final statement, the religious leaders recognise the "need for frequent discussion and conference among the leaders of different faiths in a spirit of mutual respect," convinced that "peace and security are the two indispensable factors to which all faiths contribute, and without which all religion cannot co-exist and prosper."

Coexistence also requires "security of mind", and a "strive to find common ground by adopting the concept of unity in diversity."

The representatives of the five religious want to build real "bridges" to create a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society. For this reason, "youth and women" must be given resources and responsibilities.

Lastly, recognition must be given to the fact that modern media and education play a crucial role in building a "happy and meaningful life by virtue of truth."

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