06/24/2013, 00.00
MYANMAR

Anti-Muslim violence could lead to extremism, says archbishop of Yangon

Francis Khoo Thwe
Archbishop Charles Bo talks to AsiaNews about the country's "tense situation". He does not exclude "new dangers" for Muslims, but if an Islamist group should emerge, it would sow chaos and terror. For the prelate, Catholics could act as a 'bridge', keeping channels of communication open. On Thursday, the country's religious leaders are scheduled to meet in Yangon.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The situation remains tense and Muslims are still threatened and in danger. Some fringe elements are stirring hatred and violence. The Catholic Church, Buddhist groups and human rights organisations are fighting for peace and national reconciliation, this according to Mgr Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon, who spoke about the sectarian violence that has left a trail of blood in Myanmar over the past year and seems to be undermining the reforms launched by President Thein Sein.

A few days ago, the Bishops' Conference of Myanmar addressed a letter to Burmese authorities, lamenting the lack of a "political initiative" to solve conflicts and violence.

Meanwhile, some fringe elements among Burmese Buddhists continue to spark sectarian strife, with actions like a proposed law that would ban mixed marriages and impose a ten-year sentence on those who broke it.

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi slammed such an idea as unfair and a violation of human rights. However, Myanmar President Thein Sein blamed foreign media for undermining the government's peace efforts because a number of articles, including an in-depth piece in Time magazine, pointed the finger at Buddhist terror and violence.

In view of the complex and tense situation, the Catholic Church has renewed its call for dialogue and moderation, as indicated by the archbishop of Yangon.

Mgr Bo, how do you view the situation?

At present, the situation in the country is tense. Muslims face some dangers and threats. So far, they have been the victims.

Some fringe elements have caused hatred and violence, but they are a small minority. In fact, some monks have offered shelter and comfort to the victims, whilst others have made public statements in favour of peace and [national] reconciliation.

What steps has the Catholic Church undertaken to reduce tensions?

The bishops have spoken up several times on the matter and have issued statements and appeals for peace on behalf of the Catholic Church.

We asked the US ambassador in Myanmar for help to coordinate peace building.

We invited some religious leaders from the main denominations to a breakfast meeting next Friday, 27 June, to promote peace and dialogue at which I myself will be present.

Can Catholics be a 'bridge' for reconciliation?

The Church and the faithful have always shown a friendly and cooperative attitude towards both Buddhists and Muslims over the past five centuries. There has never been a sectarian conflict between us.

As Catholics, we can and we are doing our best to bring peace, ideally acting as a "bridge" between cultures.

Your Excellency, does violence constitute a real threat to reform?

Certainly, it can be a source of chaos throughout the nation. So far, in principle, Muslims have not reacted strongly to the violence. If there were extremist elements among them, it would be a real danger for the country. However, if concrete solutions are not offered, terrorism and attacks will be an inevitable consequence.

Are there elements who fuel tensions 'behind the scenes'?

This cannot be said with certainty. Some pessimists say that the military is behind all this so that they can take back control of the country. Personally, I do not think so. From what I see, even the army supports the nation's reforms.

Rohingyas have lived in Rakhine State for many years, leading a quiet life. It should be said nevertheless that some of them have moved [to Myanmar] only recently. That is why one cannot deny that there is also a problem of a migratory nature.

Since their growth has become obvious, some Buddhists have begun to worry, in particular Buddhist monks.

With all the news coming from outside about Islam and terrorist attacks by Muslims, Buddhists have good reasons to be worried.

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