Aung San Suu Kyi and religious leaders agree that peace in Myanmar needs unity and understanding

The second Advisory Forum on National Reconciliation and Peace in Myanmar ended yesterday in the capital Naypyidaw. Aung San Suu Kyi hopes to see "mutual respect among the different races and religions". For Fr Joseph Maung Win, "Religion is not the problem, but the solution". Pope Francis’s visit is bearing fruit.

Naypyidaw (AsiaNews) – State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s religious leaders have jointly appealed for unity and mutual understanding at the Advisory Forum on National Reconciliation and Peace in Myanmar (pictured), an event organised by the group Religions for Peace-Myanmar (RfP-M).

Held in Naypyidaw on 7-8 May, the forum saw participants discuss five main topics: access to education, empowering women and young people, building unity among the country’s various ethnic groups, acceptance of the importance of different faiths, and the ongoing issues in Rakhine State.

Conflicts between distinct ethnic-religious communities persist in Myanmar, where 90 per cent of the population is Buddhist. Fighting continues between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhists in Rakhine State, between rebel armies in Shan; and between the Arakan Army (AA) and Myanmar’s military also in Rakhine. In addition, some Christian minorities face difficulties.

In her opening speech at the forum, Aung San Suu Kyi said that “mutual respect among the different races and religions” will “improve peaceful and stable livelihoods and… prevent religious conflict.” She added that there is a need “to help those affected by the conflicts to rehabilitate and to participate and cooperate in nation building.” Religious leaders agreed with the Nobel Prize laureate’s views.

“Our society needs peace in this time, when hate speech is easily available. The religious leaders of different faiths have a responsibility to right the people,” said Al Haj U Aye Lwin, the chief convener of the Islamic Centre of Myanmar.

Archbishop of Yangon Card Charles Bo, who is a patron of RfP-Myanmar, said the group “vows to continue working to achieve peace.” In fact, another forum is planned for November.

"In recent years we have seen clear improvements in the way the authorities counter ideologies that incite hatred,” said Fr Joseph Maung Win, general secretary of RfP-M and director of the Karuna Mission Social Solidarity (Myanmar’s Caritas] in the archdiocese of Yangon, speaking to AsiaNews.

“Religion is not the problem, but a solution. In the past, the government exploited religious sentiment but now we are witnessing a new trend: the leaders of the various confessions have become influential and important actors in the reconciliation process."

According to Fr Win, there is also a direct correlation between the country’s progress and the historic Pope Francis’ historic apostolic visit to Myanmar.

"After the Holy Father’s visit, our activities have intensified. The government now gives us many more opportunities to contribute to peace. Before we could not operate in conflict areas, but now RfP-M and other interfaith groups are present in some of the most troubled regions: Kachin State, in particular in the Myitkyina area ​​; Shan, near Lashio; and, finally, Rakhine, in Kyaukphyu and Sittwe."