03/29/2013, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Archbishop of Yangon calls for an end to violence between Buddhists and Muslims

by Francis Khoo Thwe
For Archbishop Bo, "love and compassion" are central to the country's main faiths. He wants "joint action" to end clashes. Youth groups adopt his initiative. President Thein Sein does not exclude the use of force against "troublemakers." Political experts see the flare-up in violence as an attempt to put power back into the hands of the military.

Yangon (AsiaNews) -  Young Burmese Buddhists, Christians, Muslims and Hindus have accepted a call for peace issued a few days ago by the archbishop of Yangon, signing an appeal for "an end to violence" between Buddhists and Muslims in the central part of country.

For days, Myanmar has been the scene of riots that have left so far dozens of people dead and caused the destruction of scores of homes and places of worship.

To stem the slide towards extremism, Myanmar's president has not ruled out the use of force against those he deems provocateurs, people only interested in sowing disorder and chaos.

According to some Burma experts, certain groups close to the army and extremist Buddhist factions are behind the attacks, plotting to overthrow the state and put power back into the hands of a military junta.

Mgr Charles Bo, archbishop of Yangon, issued a message of peace and hope that was picked up right away by interfaith youth groups.

"Love and compassion are central to Buddhism, Islam and Christianity," the prelate said. For this reason, it is "quite urgent and important for all religious leaders to come together to listen to each other in order to come to a joint statement and action."

"Unity and peaceful coexistence" can be reached through not only "a constitution or an army" but also through the "law of love, the only one that can bring about" the former, said the archbishop, who is also secretary general of the Catholic Bishops' Conference of Burma.

In his first public comments on the violence during a televised speech Thursday, Myanmar President Thein Sein warned that he would not hesitate from using force against "political opportunists and religious extremists" to save life and property.

The violence erupted on 20 March in Meikhtila after a trivial argument broke out between a Muslim gold seller and a Buddhist customer.

According to the police report following the incident, the altercation sparked riots that left 42 people dead, and caused considerable damage to property, including 37 religious buildings (mostly mosques) and 1,227 homes.

As a result, police arrested 68 people in the areas affected by the violence, which had begun in Meikhtila and then spread to 11 others cities spread across the regions of Bago (Pegu) and Mandalay, in southern and central Myanmar.

Local authorities imposed a curfew and banned public gatherings but failed to stop the violence. According to Myanmar state TV, yesterday groups of people attacked homes, shops and religious buildings in two more towns in Bago.

The previous day, security forces fired warning shots in the air to fend off more people attacking property belonging to Muslims.

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